Ghost Fishing: Marine Life’s Biggest Threat

A recycling epidemic has swept through the nation the past couple of months due to a small, yet mighty, culprit: the straw. While some states are even going so far as to ban the use of drinking straws, others are simply educating patrons and then allowing them to utilize the device by request only. While straws are indeed a part of the problem, they are not, however, the whole problem. We decided to do some research to understand how so much plastic could accumulate in the ocean in such little time.

In the Pacific Ocean, there is a mass of plastic and garbage that is so large, that it is more than three times the size of Spain and two times the size of Texas. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, as it is now known as, is growing at an exponential rate and is more than 617,800 square miles in size. When some of the garbage was collected for further studies, they found that 1.7 trillion pieces were micro-plastics and that 92% of the total plastic mass came from larger pieces. From those larger pieces, they estimated that about 70% of the plastic mass was made up from lost fishing gear and nets known as ‘ghost nets’. The term ‘ghost net’ was coined from the fact that these abandoned fishing nets drift throughout the ocean, entrapping creatures and breaking into smaller bits of plastic.

‘Ghost Fishing’ and ‘ghost nets’ cause a vicious cycle of events in ocean ecosystem. Caught fish die in the nets, which in turn attracts scavengers who are sure to face the same fate. Lost fishing gear is one of the greatest factors killing ocean life today, and not just because of the number of nets that are lost. Hundreds of kilometers of nets and fishing gear get lost every year in the ocean, and because the makeup of these materials is so tough, the gear can and will keep fishing for up to 600 years.

To help stop ghost fishing, the World Animal Protection Agency successfully lobbied the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to protect marine life by requiring that all fishing nets be tagged. This is a huge step in the right direction towards ending ghost fishing because once the gear is tagged, it will help authorities trace abandoned gear back to their owners, which will help tackle illegal fishing practices and dumping at sea as well. This major decision means sea animals are a lot less likely to find themselves entangled, or even killed, by lost and abandoned fishing gear. While this initiative is a step towards eradicating the problem of oceans being consumed by plastic, there are still ways to help:

  • Add your name to the Sea Change campaign petition to get seafood companies to address ghost gear in their supply chains and do more to protect marine life. Sign here!
  • Join the Global Ghost Gear Initiative “to ensure safer, cleaner oceans by driving economically viable and sustainable solutions to the problem of ghost fishing gear globally. Join now!
  • Pick up garbage and litter near beaches.
  • Carry a reusable water bottle.
  • Eat more sustainable seafood.
  • Watch this video to learn more about the Global Ghost Gear Initiative.


These steps may seem small, but they can make a huge impact on if there really are ‘more fish in the sea’...

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