Plastic Gear Loss From Industrial Fishing
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Industrial Fishing And Plastic Waste
Industrial fishing of marine environments is negatively impacting marine animals and their surrounding ecosystems. With an estimated 4.6 million marine vessels in the sea, the buildup of derelict (abandoned, discarded, or lost) fishing gear in the oceans is becoming greater each year. The plastic gear that accumulates in the ocean often continues to trap and harm marine animals, known as “ghost fishing.” Likewise, the gear damages local reefs and other marine environments. As fishing gear is now synthetic and more durable than in the past, it poses longer-lasting threats.
The methods for determining the amount of derelict gear in the ocean are limited. Because it’s not possible to directly observe most fishing vessels, researchers have had to rely on estimates. However, at the time of the study, the authors note that there were no up-to-date, reliable figures on lost plastic gear. As such, they attempt to come up with a new estimate of lost gear that specifically accounts for the impact of industrial fisheries. Having trustworthy numbers is important as it helps advocates and policymakers understand the true scale of the problem.
Estimates For What’s Out There
To create their estimates, the researchers used satellite and remote imagery of fishing vessels coupled with data on global fish catch and discard numbers from the United Nations FAO and technical models of fishing gear. These estimates do not take into account fishing gear that is abandoned or improperly discarded. They also omit small-scale fisheries, local fisheries, and ghost ships.
Despite these limitations, the authors found a median estimated fishing gear loss of 48.4kt (kilotons) in 2018 as a result of industrial seining, trawling, and longline fishing activity. Industrial fishing operations accounted for approximately 50 megatons of fish capture that year, representing 74% of all fish capture.
Two types of fishing gear that are commonly lost are set gillnets and drifting fish-aggregate devices (dFAD’s). There is no way of observing the gear that has fallen from marine vessels, so independent models were created to determine estimates of lost fishing gear combined with models that measure the intensity of the fishing vessels’ effort (in other words, how much time they spend at sea compared to how much fish they catch).
Combatting Lost Gear
Abandoned, lost, or discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) remains one of the many problems that contribute to plastic waste building up in the ocean. This gear, along with unmarked ships, continue to catch fishes and impact ecosystems with no documentation or repercussions for the fishing they do. Due to the increasing amount of seafood being consumed around the world, fishing operations are only increasing. Not only does this affect the health of marine animals and their habitats, but it also threatens the health (and often the livelihoods) of local communities that rely on these food sources. Animal advocates can use this data to emphasize that lost fishing gear remains a prevalent and urgent issue that policymakers and global governing bodies need to address.