European Cetacean Bycatch banner loading

"Man is but a strand in the complex web of life"

Internal links buttons



Ghost Gear Cleanups Underway in U.S. and Japan

YARMOUTH PORT, Massachusetts, April 25, 2000 (ENS) -

Called "ghost gear" by fishing people, discarded netting, old lobster and crab pots, and knots of rope drift abandoned at sea creating hazardous conditions for all marine life. Now in two separate efforts - one in the United States and the other in Japan - people are cleaning the oceans of these floating death traps.
In Cape Cod Bay, critical habitat of the North Atlantic right whale, the world's rarest whale species, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the Massachusetts Lobsterman's Association and the state of Massachusetts Monday announced a cleanup of ghost gear


Dead right whale washed up on east coast of the U.S. (Photo courtesy New England Aquarium)

Jared Blumenfeld, IFAW's habitat director, says, "Every old fishing net, discarded rope, or other piece of ghost gear that we pull out of the water is one less death trap for the remaining 300 North Atlantic right whales."
With $12,000 from IFAW, the project will be implemented by Massachusetts lobstermen with oversight from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries.
Up to seven fishing boats will be working over the next few weeks to clear fishing and lobster gear that is discarded, lost or otherwise illegally floating in Cape Cod Bay. The fishing boat crews will map locations of the ghost gear, and document the gear's identification numbers. If owners can be identified, the gear will be returned.
A representative from the Division of Marine Fisheries or the Massachusetts Environmental Police will be aboard each boat, to ensure that active gear is not disturbed.
Many animals and birds die as a result of contact with ghost gear. Here, a pelican is entangled in discarded fishing line.

{Photo courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)}

North Atlantic right whales are highly susceptible to entanglement in fishing gear. Right whales feed near the surface where floating buoys and line can become entangled in the baleen plates within their mouths as they feed, and become wrapped around their tail flukes and flippers as they move through the water. Entanglement and ship strikes are the most hazardous threat to right whales.
Gary Ostrom from the Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association, "The cooperation between ourselves, IFAW, and the state is a critical step towards saving the right whale. Our industry has a unique knowledge of these creatures that has to date been under-utilized. We look forward to doing more to help saving this highly endangered species."
In Japan, the national federation of fishery associations has begun a three-year project to collect ghost gear lost at sea.
A recent survey of the sea bed off the coast of Kyushu by Tatsuro Matsuoka, professor of Kagoshima University's school of marine studies, found an average of one ghost net for every 20 square meters in 20 to 40 meter deep areas.
The Kagoshima University team dove each month in the area documenting the effect of the ghost gear on marine life. They found that 40 percent of the ghost nets were continuing to catch about 30 species including octopus, crab, flounder and sea bream.

Nets continue to catch fish and crabs after they are lost at sea.
(Photo courtesy NOAA)

Matsuoka's team estimated 200,000 to 500,000 octopuses annually have been caught in the ghost nets. This amount is equivalent to the region's total annual harvest of octopus, they told the "Asahi Shimbun" newspaper.
The Japanese Fisheries Agency found that lost nets and traps are destroying the snow crab populations in the Sea of Japan because the larger crabs cannot escape from the hundreds of traps lost by crabbers every year.
The problem of ghost gear has been known internationally since the 1980s, the Fisheries Agency says, but Matsuoka's is the first serious Japanese study.


more information about ghost gear