Large-scale recovery campaigns of lost or abandoned fishing nets will be organized and as much as possible will ghost nets be recovered. Focus is on deep sea areas. Main objective is to estimate the quantity of ghost nets on the seabed.
Why this study?
Lost or abandoned gillnets on the seabed continue to catch fish and shellfish, especially in deep waters. These catches can be regarded as unaccounted mortality created by the fisheries involved and have a negative impact on the conservation of the resources. This study is initiated by the Commission to recover as many as possible ghost nets and collect data in order to assess the quantity of lost or abandoned fishing nets, especially in deep waters.
The project had two primarily functions (i) to conduct structured surveys to estimate the quantity and range of lost and abandoned gears and (ii) to conduct mitigation surveys. The study will focus on deep sea ghost nets.
Ghost fishing is the term given to the continued catching by a fishing gear once it has been lost or abandoned. It is a phenomenon largely confined to passive gears such as gillnets, tangle nets, trammel nets and traps. In order to determine the size of this problem four broad areas were selected for survey: Rockall & George Bligh Bank; North Shetland; South and West Porcupine; and Rosemary Bank & SE Rockall. Two charter vessels were selected which completed a total of 82 survey days within a four month period during the summer of 2008. Over 2600 km of transects were completed. Undoubtedly, this is the most extensive coordinated survey undertaken in the EC to date but it must be considered against the large spatial distribution of gill net fishery.
The survey data imply that the extent of lost nets is low. For gillnets that were retrieved, catches of marine organisms were low and comprised mainly of crabs. Based on these results it seems that the issue of ghost fishing from lost gillnets does not contribute to extensive unaccounted catches. No evidence was found of abandoned gears or netting in any of the areas surveyed.
Information gathering for the mitigation surveys came from the gillnet fleet engaged in the fishery and from the towed gear sector that picked up nets during their normal trawling operations. Face-to-face interviews were conducted with some Spanish and Scottish skippers in the main fishing ports. In addition, the main producer organisations were contacted through the NWWRAC. POs were asked to distribute a one page questionnaire to record positional data where nets had been lost.
Given the low number of gillnets recovered in the survey it can be misleading to based on this survey estimate the absolute number of lost gillnets. Even in a highly regulated fisheries such as the Norwegian Greenland halibut fishery, gill net loss is still considered to be problematic, with an average of 17.5 km of netting being retrieved in 2007 and 2008. The high retrieval rate of lost netting in this fisheries is based on a high level of very precise information on the location and extent of net loss which skippers are obliged to report upon and backed up by extensive interviews of gill net skippers operating in the fishery. Based on this experience the study recommended that such a programme is considered for EC gill net fisheries. In close cooperation with the fishing industry a system could be developed to provide data on the amount of gill net loss.
Full title: Recuperation of fishing nets lost or abandoned at sea
Organisations: Marine Institute, Runde Environment Centre, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, Seafish, Bord Iascaigh Mhara.