All fishers and fisheries contribute to the issue of lost and abandoned fishing gear, know as ghost gear. However, illegal fishers are much more likely to lose or abandon their gear.
Every minute, one tonne of fishing gear enters our oceans. And every year it kills or entangles 136,000 sea animals, such as turtles, birds, dolphins, and seals.
Click on the tabs below to see photos from our investigation into illegal fishers in Thailand, and learn more about the issue.
Fish boxes used to transport catch to market are lined up at Khuraburi Pier on the Andaman coast, located three hours north of Phuket, Thailand.
Vessels that fish illegally are known to abandon fishing gear as they approach ports, in an attempt to hide evidence. This dumped ‘ghost gear’ becomes a threat to marine life, as it continues to catch fish indiscriminately.
A fishing boat crew removes fragments of ghost nets which got caught on their boat’s trawl net as they were fishing off the Andaman Coast, Thailand. Our researchers were told this happens on every fishing trip, usually five times a day.
We witnessed net fragments thrown back into the sea to continue drifting as ghost gear. These fragments pose a risk to animals through ingestion and entanglement. They also impact sensitive marine habitats.
A fishing crew monitors its net while fishing at night. Research has shown that between 50 and 200 types of sea creature, often juvenile, are caught by nets like these in the Andaman Sea.
Night fishing increases the chances of gear conflict. As a result, it also increases ghost gear, as vessels compete in difficult conditions with limited visibility. This ghost gear contributes to an estimated overall accumulation of 640,000 tonnes per year into the world’s oceans.
Fishing boats regularly trawl at night in the Andaman Sea. Our researchers were taken on 25km sea journeys to meet up with this boat, so they could document it working at night.
A fishing crew works with a net during night fishing off the Andaman Coast, Thailand. It's common practice for legal fisheries to use torches on gear to increase visibility and help them find it. However, this is not always the case for nets that have been put out illegally.
Catastrophic damage to trawl nets, due to entanglement or snagging, means that trawl nets are regularly lost. A fishing crew we met told us that entire nets - or at least part of them - are lost at least once a month on average. Ghost gear like this accounts for approximately 10% of all marine debris and is a major threat to marine wildlife.
Trawl nets regularly snag other gear. When this happens, fishing crews usually cut them free, then discard them in the sea. Research shows that a type of net known as a gillnet, and other entangling nets, can continue catching marine life for years after being lost or discarded.
Illegal fishers often abandon their gear to evade capture by authorities
Illegal fishers' gear often gets entangled, so they leave it behind
At night, illegal fishers are more likely to lose their gear