Ghost net fishing is a phenomenon caused when fishing equipment is not properly retrieved. The lost gear can stay in the water for days, months or years. A ghost net contributes to pollution in the oceans. When asking, “What is ghost net fishing?” you should know ghost nets are particularly hazardous because they can float for great distances at multiple depths. They often wind up nowhere near their points of origin.

Even ghost nets that stay in their original areas are hazardous because they continue to collect and trap marine life. Many endangered species, such as sea turtles, can become trapped in them. Ghost fishing can also cause fish populations to drop in certain areas over time if they go undiscovered for long periods. Learn more about ghost net fishing by reading the sections below.

How does ghost net fishing occur?

Ghost net fishing problems occur because fishermen lose gear and that gear traps and tangle marine life. Among them are faulty gear, improperly marked gear and gear lost due to storms or poor fishing conditions. Some fishing gear is also abandoned either deliberately by law violators not wishing to get caught or unintentionally due to unforeseen circumstances. For example, ice can suddenly form in the arctic, impeding crab fishing. Ghost net fishing occurs once this gear becomes trapped below the surface.

What types of lost equipment contribute to ghost net fishing?

Ghost net fishing encompasses any gear lost by fishermen. Gillnets are among the most common types of lost fishing gear. They are susceptible to broken anchor lines and drifting caused by storms or changing currents. Not only can a ghost net continue killing fish, but they can damage the sea floor as well. A large net recovered by NOAA in 2014 destroyed portions of the coral around Pearl and Hermes Atoll in Hawaii.

In addition to ghost nets, lost fishing lines and various types of traps can also wreak havoc on marine life. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science conducted a study on crabs killed by ghost pots. The results indicated that up to 1.25 million crabs are trapped by them in Chesapeake Bay annually. Many ghost nets are also lost in other parts of the world annually.

Where does ghost net fishing occur?

Ghost net fishing can originate anywhere fishing occurs, and the lost gear can travel great distances. However, it is most common in the world’s oceans. Ghost fishing impacts are also experienced more in certain parts of the world due to both fishing practices in some areas and ocean currents. Specific ocean currents are responsible for collecting and carrying gear in particular directions. There are ghost fishing areas where all types of garbage, including lost fishing gear, have formed a visible expanse of waste.

What underwater species are affected by ghost net fishing?

Ghost nets and ghost gear often continue to trap their target animals when left in the water. Therefore, ghost fishing statistics show that many species of crabs, lobsters and fish are at risk. However, a ghost net can also entrap various other underwater species, including turtles and marine mammals. Many endangered creatures are killed by ghost net gear annually also, including the rockfish. It is also important to note that some ghost gear kills by entrapping animals. Other types of gear or gear fragments can cause death by being swallowed by marine life.

How are humans affected by ghost net fishing?

Ghost net fishing affects humans in multiple ways. For example, if fish populations are reduced humans in certain areas have less food. There are also less opportunities for recreational fishing. Additionally, commercial anglers may find it difficult to catch enough fish to earn a living. However, the biggest direct danger of ghost net fishing for humans is the same as it is for fish. Boat propellers, and occasionally swimmers or divers, can become caught in ghost nets. Small boats can capsize when stuck in such debris. Larger boats may not be lost, but their captains must take time and money to repair the damage caused. Ghost net injuries, deaths and property damage are routinely reported after encounters with ghost gear.

What efforts to reduce ghost net fishing are being made?

Many groups, including the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have instituted programs to help reduce the negative environmental impact of ghost fishing. NOAA is working on ways to reduce ghost fishing by helping anglers keep their gears secure and locate it easier. Other groups and individuals are making efforts to search their local waters and remove ghost net fishing debris. For example, the International Association of Geophysical Contractors has also established the Ghost Net Initiative. The Ghost Net Initiative has also partnered with Healthy Seas to increase education about ghost nets. Together they also monitor progress made in reducing ghost net waste. Ghost net fishing can also be prevented through GPS, undersea imaging and other technologies are also being used by modern fishermen to track their own gear. Conservationists use similar technologies to recover lost gear.