Abandoned fishing gear an “immortal menace” which must be central in the fight against plastic pollution: WWF Report | WWF
Abandoned fishing gear an “immortal menace” which must be central in the fight against plastic pollution: WWF Report

Posted on 20 October 2020

Karachi: 20 October 2020 – Abandoned fishing gear is the deadliest form of plastic debris for marine life and has already driven the vaquita porpoise and other marine mammals to the brink of extinction, yet even as this crisis continues to intensify, little attention is being paid to it by governments or industry, according to a new report from WWF.
 
The report, Stop Ghost Gear: The most deadly form of marine plastic debris, shines a light on how ghost gear* is responsible for harming 66 per cent of marine mammal species, half of seabird species and all species of sea turtles, often subjecting them to a slow, painful and inhumane death. It also damages vital marine habitats such as coral reefs and mangroves and threatens the food sources and livelihoods of coastal communities and fishers, according to the report, which highlights how tackling ghost gear should be at the fore of efforts to combat the global plastic pollution problem.
 
To create awareness about adverse impacts of ghost gear and share the findings of the report, WWF-Pakistan organized a webinar on Tuesday, 20 October, which was attended by more than 100 students from Karachi and Lasbella universities. 
 
Commenting on the report, Hammad Naqi Khan, Director General of WWF-Pakistan said that while the consequences of plastic waste are finally starting to receive the attention they deserve, there’s still too little awareness about the catastrophic harm caused by ghost gear. This needs to change urgently given that it is the most deadly form of marine plastic debris and that it can linger in our oceans for centuries, wreaking havoc like some kind of immortal menace: continuously and cruelly killing whales, dolphins, seals, seabirds, turtles and sharks, and damaging vital ocean habitats.
 
He further said that the report unveils the impact and the tragic scale of this invisible ocean killer, and how it is linked to the practices of fishers and the fishing industry, as well as making it very clear that the current legal framework on marine plastic pollution and ghost gear is fragmented and ineffective. This is a global problem, and Pakistan is no exception, which requires coordinated action across the world, which is why WWF urges governments and businesses to support the establishment of a new global UN treaty on plastic pollution that sets out global goals and binding targets for both land- and marine-based plastic pollution, which in turn can help drive robust local regulation of ghost gear. ‘We must stop ghost gear from decimating marine life and drowning the ocean we all depend on once and for all,’ he added.
 
Speaking during the webinar, Muhammad Moazzam Khan, Technical Advisor Fisheries, WWF-Pakistan said that ghost nets have a serious impact on the marine ecosystem. It is one of the major threats to marine life, particularly for endangered species in Pakistani waters. He shared that to address the issue of abandoned fishing nets, WWF-Pakistan initiated a clean-up drive in ecologically significant areas of Pakistan including Astola Island, Churna Island, Kaio Island and waters around Ormara and Gwadar in 2012. He revealed that a large number of marine species including Olive ridley turtles and commercially important fishes were found dead due to entanglement in these nets. In the last eight years, 52 olive ridley turtles were reported to be found entangled in floating ghost gear, which were disentangled and safely released back into waters by WWF-Pakistan trained fishers. He also shared that the discarded nets have caused severe damage to lobster fisheries in Malan, Balochistan leading to significant loss of livelihoods to local fisher communities.
 
Khan also mentioned that to reduce the ghost gear from Pakistani waters, WWF-Pakistan has established ghost gear collection pen in Jiwani where fishers bring their discarded nets. ‘With support of local fishers and other stakeholders, WWF-Pakistan is planning to start recycling of ghost nets’, he added.    

The report shows that at least 10 per cent of marine litter is estimated to be made up of fishing waste, which means that between 500,000 and 1 million tons of fishing gear are entering the ocean every year. The number of species affected by either entanglement or ingestion of plastic debris has doubled since 1997, from 267 to 557 species, 66 per cent of marine mammals, 50 per cent of seabirds, and all 7 species of marine turtles. According to the report 5.7 per cent of all fishing nets, 8.6 per cent of traps and pots, and 29 per cent of all fishing lines used globally are lost around the world each year. In the upper Gulf of California, Mexico, illegal and abandoned gillnets have driven the vaquita porpoise to the brink of extinction – only around 10 individuals remain.
 
Ghost gear damages valuable marine habitats, damaging coral, harming the habitats of sessile animals, damaging vegetation, causing sediment build-up, and impeding access to key ecosystems. The report mentions that ghost gear has negative economic impacts, posing dangers to livelihoods and navigation by boat. Other studies estimate that over 90 per cent of species caught in ghost gear are of commercial value. Experts are of the view that ghost gear can act as a navigation hazard, affecting a vessel’s propulsion and the ability to maneuver, causing operational delays, economic loss and, in extreme cases, injuries or even the loss of lives of crew members or ferry passengers.
 
The report calls on governments to support the establishment of a new treaty to stop plastic pollution, WWF is encouraging countries to join the Global Ghost Gear Initiative - a global alliance of fishing industry, private sector, corporates, NGOs, academia and governments focused on solving the problem of lost and abandoned fishing gear worldwide.
 
Members of the public are invited to join almost 2 million others in signing the petition calling governments to take urgent action at www.panda.org/plastics.They can also support the campaign by uploading a photo or video of a sea species to social media with a big hashtag (#) over it and tagging #StopGhostGear.
 
Green turtles found entangled in ghost net along Balochistan coast
© WWF-Pakistan