UN report warns of “ghost fishing”

Lost or discarded fishing nets can continue to catch fish for years and have become a growing threat to the earth’s marine ecosystem, according to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The abandoned or lost gear makes up about 10% -- or 640,000 tonnes – of all marine litter, AFP reported, citing UNEP’s figures.


Co-authored by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the study said the problem was worsening because of the growth of global fishing and the use of equipment made of increasingly durable materials. The report singled out bottom set gill nets, which are anchored to the sea floor and fitted with floats; this forms an undersea wall of netting that can stretch for several thousand metres.


“If a gill net is abandoned or lost, it can continue to fish on its own for months — and sometimes years — indiscriminately killing fish and other animals,” UNEP said. It also cited crab traps and other devices, which in some hurricane-prone regions are lost by the hundreds of thousands with each season.


The UN study recommended measures to halt the trend, including financial incentives for fishermen to report lost gear, marking equipment, improved disposal schemes and the use of biodegradable elements in fishing gear. It also urged delegates gathering for the World Oceans Conference in Indonesia next week to address the problem urgently.


UNEP’s executive director, Achim Steiner, said ghost fishing was just one of many problems haunting the marine environment. Others included acidification linked to greenhouse gases and oxygen-deprived “dead zones” created by run-off and land-based pollution.


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