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Ghost Fishing - A Serious Ecological and Economic Issue

Brendan Cook   |   February 10, 2017

Ghost Fishing: The ecological and economic effect from abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear. How underwater drones aid in restoring marine life.

What is Ghost Fishing?

Consider the sheer number of nets, long lines, fish traps, floats and other man-made devices used around the world by commercial fisheries. If this fishing gear is abandoned, lost or discarded, organizations which monitor and control fishing throughout the world refer to it by the acronym “ALDFG” (abandoned, lost, discarded fishing gear).

Although it may seem hard to believe, scientists estimate that ALDFG accounts for about ten percent of all marine debris worldwide. Levels of ALDFG have grown substantially through the decades as the scale of commercial fishing has increased along with long lasting synthetic gear being introduced in the harvesting processes.

Abandoned, submerged gear is a significant problem from several points of view. It will likely remain in the ocean for many years. Although they are not being maintained, managed or monitored, lost and abandoned nets continue to carry out their capture processes. Invisibly, below the surface of the water, this gear will entangle and trap fish and other marine animals and kill them. This is the phenomenon referred to as “Ghost Fishing”.


Infographic Sea Change ghost fishing

Causes of Ghost Fishing

Ghost fishing gear is the result of many circumstances. Some equipment may be lost due to storms, currents and other perils of nature. The ravages of time and poor maintenance may see more nets and fishing gear disappear when anchors, floats or moorings corrode. Unfortunately, a significant percentage of ghost fishing gear is the result of being thrown overboard by crews because it was the easiest and most expedient way to dispose of it.

The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has identified several consequences of ghost fishing and issued a comprehensive report in 2016 to address the problem. It is believed that there are likely thousands of kilometers of abandoned and damaged nets drifting through seas or trapped by obstacles on sea beds. The obvious result is that these ghost nets continue to trap fish.

Ghost fishing cannot help but affect fish stock from a numerical point of view. Fish caught in ghost gear cannot be harvested by fishers and thus create depleted catches. Fish and marine animals trapped in these nets inevitably die. Their remains will become sources and hosts for waterborne diseases that in turn affect the health of other species in the area.

Abandoned and lost gear also creates navigation hazards. Submerged and drifting nets and gear can cause hull damage, foul propellers and get caught in other aspects of propulsion systems.

Propeller Shaft Damage Video Inspection

Inspection of Vessel's Damaged Prop Shaft

Preventing Ghost Fishing

Clearly, ghost fishing has severe economic and environmental consequences. However, in a 2016 report, the FAO was able to identify seventeen preventative methods to avoid, minimize or eliminate fishing gear being abandoned, lost or discarded in our oceans and seas. Deep Trekker can easily be part of your industry’s efforts to reduce the ravages of ghost fishing and to increase profitability in aquaculture.

Deep Trekker’s Remote Operated Vehicles (ROVs), paired with the FAO’s preventative strategies can safely assist in reducing marine debris, improving the safe navigation of fishing grounds and helping to restore the health of fragile open water ecosystems.

Among the obvious recommendations issued by the FAO are the detection and removal of ALDFGs and periodic or constant observation of passive gear (gear that is left in place for a period of time prior to retrieving). A Deep Trekker ROV is a sensible, affordable and dependable choice to meet these objectives.

The DTG2 and DTX2 ROVs are easy to use, portable and built to last in harsh open water environments. Deep Trekker has integrated a patented pitching system into it for maximum maneuverability. With the optional grabber claw, ALDFG can even be recovered with the Deep Trekker ROV.

Piloting a unit and surveying images is easy using the handheld controller with a built-in video display. The 330-degree field of view provided by the internal HD camera can be viewed in real time or fed to another monitor or DVR.

ROV inspecting fish

Discover and document ghost fishing gear without worrying about power considerations. Deep Trekker ROV’s have onboard batteries that run 6-8 hours on a 1.5-hour charge. The unit’s extreme portability means you can also survey in difficult or awkward locations up to depths of 100 m to 150 m. When you are all finished, all components of the DTG2 ROV are stored in a single, manageable case.

There is no question that ghost fishing is a significant issue for many maritime industries. The FAO has identified strategies to reduce its proliferation and associated risks. Deep Trekker can assist you in reducing the risks of your gear becoming part of the ghost fishing phenomenon.

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