Tackling ghost fishing gear

The problem

  • A staggering 640,000 tonnes of discarded fishing gear is left in our oceans each year.
  • Ghost fishing gear refers to any fishing equipment or fishing related litter that has been abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded; also referred to as ‘derelict fishing gear’ and/or ‘fishing litter’. It is one of the biggest threats to animals in our oceans.

The solution

  • We are working with governments, industry and members of the public to find and implement sustainable solutions for a future free from ghost fishing litter. Working in collaboration means more can be done to protect marine mammals.

What we're doing

  • Our global Sea Change campaign is dedicated to preventing ghost fishing litter from entering UK waters and to protect thousands of British species currently affected.
  • We are carrying out research and working with partners to quantify and tackle this grave issue

Fishing litter: a phantom menace

Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of fishing litter – or ghost gear - enters our oceans globally each year and the impact it has on the environment and marine mammals is devastating.
The ghost fishing gear that pollutes UK waters may have been lost, discarded or abandoned and can create potential death traps for marine mammals and coastal wildlife.
The size and origin of the ghost gear problem in UK waters remains poorly understood, but it is clear that entanglement in ghost fishing gear is a threat to animal welfare. This is we are taking a lead role in tackling this phantom menace by carrying out research and working with partners and stakeholders to explore and clarify why this issues needs to be urgently addressed.
We are:

  • The leading charity working to uncover the scale and impact of ghost gear in the UK 
  • Working with the UK Government to identify those areas most affected by ghost gear in UK waters
  • Working with the companies, organisations and individuals who can stop fishing gear entering our seas
  • Enabling initiatives that focus on the removal of ghost gear in UK waters and around the UK coastline
  • Seeking out and developing new initiatives to use recovered ghost gear for sustainable recycling projects
  • Supporting partners working on hands-on animal rescue to save marine mammals injured by ghost fishing gear

Effects of ghost gear on sea animals

Thin pieces of fishing line can wrap around a limb or the neck of an animal, causing infections, constrictions and sometimes death. Other animals are trapped by nets, leading to drowning, decapitation, amputation or starvation.

  • Seabirds such as gannets are known to make nests with small pieces of netting, which can prevent them from flying, nesting and diving
  • Young seals are curious animals which can lead to them playing with fishing net. Seals trapped in netting often find themselves unable to move as it tightens around their neck or flipper. Read more about seals who have been rescued
  • Whales, dolphins and porpoises of all sizes can become entangled in and killed by fishing gear, floating rope, ghost nets and lines attached to pots and creels, which is a rope attached to cages on the seabed used to catch lobsters and crabs 
  • The Leatherback turtle is the most common species of turtle found in British waters and its global status is critically endangered. Between July and October, when the turtles migrate to our waters to feast on jellyfish, they often become entangled in rope
(Above) Amanda Cotton / Marine Photobank (Top) Alex Mustard / naturepl.com (Bottom, left to right) Michelle de Villiers, Mike Guy/Marine Photobank, NOAA

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