New report from WWF says abandoned fishing gear an “immortal menace” which must be central in the fight against plastic pollution | WWF

New report from WWF says abandoned fishing gear an “immortal menace” which must be central in the fight against plastic pollution

Posted on
20 October 2020


The report "Stop Ghost Gear: The most deadly form of marine plastic debris" shines a lights on how ghost gear* is responsible for harming 66 per cent of marine mammal species, half of seabird species and all species of sea turtles, often subjecting them to a slow, painful and inhumane death. It also damages vital marine habitats such as coral reefs and mangroves and threatens the food sources and livelihoods of coastal communities and fishers, according to the report, which highlights how tackling ghost gear should be at the fore of efforts to combat the global plastic pollution problem. 

Commenting on the report, Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International said:
“While the consequences of plastic waste are finally starting to receive the attention they deserve, there’s still too little awareness about the catastrophic harm caused by ghost gear. This needs to change urgently given that it’s the most deadly form of marine plastic debris and that it can linger in our oceans for centuries, wreaking havoc like some kind of immortal menace: continuously and cruelly killing whales, dolphins, seals, seabirds, turtles and sharks, and damaging vital ocean habitats.

“This report unveils the impact and the tragic scale of this invisible ocean killer, and how it is linked to the practices of fishers and the fishing industry, as well as making it very clear that the current legal framework on marine plastic pollution and ghost gear is fragmented and ineffective. This is a global problem which requires coordinated action across the world, which is why WWF urges governments and businesses to support the establishment of a new global UN treaty on plastic pollution that sets out global goals and binding targets for both land- and marine-based plastic pollution, which in turn can help drive robust local regulation of ghost gear. We must stop ghost gear from decimating marine life and drowning the ocean we all depend on once and for all.”

The report shows that:
  • At least 10 per cent of marine litter is estimated to be made up of fishing waste, which means that between 500,000 and 1 million tons of fishing gear are entering the ocean every year. 
  • The number of species affected by either entanglement or ingestion of plastic debris has doubled since 1997, from 267 to 557 species. 66% of marine mammals, 50% of seabirds, and all 7 species of marine turtles .
  • 5.7 per cent of all fishing nets, 8.6 per cent of traps and pots, and 29 per cent of all fishing lines used globally are lost around the world each year. 
  • In the upper Gulf of California, Mexico, illegal and abandoned gillnets have driven the vaquita porpoise to the brink of extinction – only around 10 individuals remain.
  • Ghost gear damages valuable marine habitats, damaging coral, harming the habitats of sessile animals, damaging vegetation, causing sediment build-up, and impeding access to key ecosystems.
  • Ghost gear has negative economic impacts, posing dangers to livelihoods and navigation by boat.
  • Studies estimate that over 90 per cent of species caught in ghost gear are of commercial value.
Ghost gear can act as a navigation hazard, affecting a vessel’s propulsion and the ability to manoeuvre, causing operational delays, economic loss and, in extreme cases, injuries or even the loss of lives of crew members or ferry passengers.

As well as calling on governments to support the establishment of a new treaty to stop plastic pollution, WWF is encouraging countries to join the Global Ghost Gear Initiative - a global alliance of fishing industry, private sector, corporates, NGOs, academia and governments focused on solving the problem of lost and abandoned fishing gear worldwide.

Members of the public are invited to join almost 2 million others in signing the petition calling governments to take urgent action at www.panda.org/plastics.They can also support the campaign by uploading a photo or video of a sea species to social media with a big hashtag (#) over it and tagging #StopGhostGear.

READ THE FULL REPORT