Fishermen’s beacons tackle ghost gear issue

creel fishermen, creels, pots

They have been called the ocean’s silent killers.

Fishing nets and pots lost or abandoned at sea are far more lethal to marine life than the plastic bottles, carrier bags and drinking straws being targeted by clean-up campaigns. However, they are a problem that has largely gone unnoticed by the public.

The abandoned nets and pots, known as ghost gear, trap and kill millions of dolphins, seals, turtles, fish, crabs and lobsters each year.

More than 600,000 tonnes of fishing gear, mostly made from highly durable plastic such as nylon, is discarded annually in the ocean, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. It makes up almost half of marine litter in some areas. Some eventually washes up on beaches and may be cleared by volunteers but each tide brings more.

Now fishermen in Plymouth, Devon are running a trial of a new system to stop fishing gear from being lost in the first place.

This week they will begin attaching buoys containing transponders to their nets and pots. The transponders, or beacons, send radio signals alerting other boats to their position, allowing them to alter course to avoid catching lines on their propellers. The fishermen will also be able to go online to track and recover any lost gear.

Brian Tapper, owner of the crabbing vessel Elsie Leigh, which is taking part in trials organised by the Blue Marine Foundation (BMF), has lost more than 600 crab and lobster pots, each costing about £80, in the past five years.

Most were dragged away by passing ships, including some he believes were snagged by German naval vessels training off Plymouth in 2015.

Last month a trawler hauled up some pots he had lost three years ago and returned them to him.

Ghost Gear

Mr Tapper, 47, who has been fishing since he was 13, said that recovered pots often contained the empty shells of crabs and lobsters which had long since died and rotted.

“We hate losing gear because we know the consequences — you are killing breeding stock which goes in there and you never get that back.” Mr Tapper said that other boats equipped with automatic identification systems would be able to see the location of his pots on screens in their cabins, and avoid them. The beacons cost about £400 each and two are needed to mark a line of pots or nets, one at each end.

BMF said that the cost was too high for many small-scale fishermen, who may have several sets of gear each needing a pair of beacons. It hopes the trials will prove that the system works and plans to use the results to raise funds to help fishermen in every port buy beacons.

Dan Crockett, BMF’s head of development, said: “Ghost gear comes at a huge cost to fishermen and sea life alike. If we can eradicate ghost gear by preventing pots or nets being lost in the first place it will benefit fishermen and be a huge step in fighting the war against plastics where it matters most, at source.”

Read the full article Fishermen’s beacons stop sea life dying in lost nets at The Times.

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