The silent killer responsible for mass marine life slaughter

Posted on 08 June 2017 by

Ingrid Giskes

in the Sea Change campaign blog

Two years ago, whaling created mass public outrage, and rightfully so

In 2015, Japanese fleets killed over 300 minke whales in the Southern Ocean, despite a 30-year-ban placed against the barbaric activity.

Over 33 countries protested the operation which was globally condemned as a ‘crime against nature’.

Activists rallied worldwide, from hunger strikes in Australia to scaling government buildings in Norway, and the more extreme riding of a whale carcass through an Icelandic port, reflecting a long history of daring anti-whaling protests.

Yet underneath the surface of our oceans there is another hidden danger killing and injuring huge numbers of whales and marine animals

Commonly known as ‘ghost gear’, abandoned, lost and discarded fishing nets, lines and traps can lurk in our oceans for up to 600 years, and are one of the biggest and most potent threats to our sea life and their welfare.

To put the issue into perspective, a harpooned whale will die within six hours. A whale trapped in ghost gear will suffer, suffocate and starve for up to six months before eventual death. It’s inhumane.

A staggering 640,000 tonnes of this fishing gear is left in our oceans each year and is trapping, injuring, mutilating and killing hundreds of thousands of whales, seals, turtles and birds annually.

Over 817 species of marine life have been affected so far.

And it doesn’t just cost the lives of marine animals, it also costs the fishing industry millions of dollars in lost revenue each year.

Ghost gear eradicates marketable produce and has caused an estimated 10% decline in fish stocks globally.

New research estimates that one abandoned fishing net could kill almost USD $15,000 worth of fish stocks over 10 years, while the cost to remove this gear is just USD $1,000.

But there is hope as the tide turns for sea animals.

In early June we will be working to get some of the most important and influential government and fishing industry stakeholders on board with tackling the ghost gear problem – and to tip them into action.

We’ll be at the UN Ocean Conference (5-9 June) and the SeaWeb Seafood Summit (5-7 June), talking with governments, private sector stakeholders and NGOs about joining the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) to reduce ghost gear.

Two years ago, we set up the GGGI as an alliance of governments, industry leaders, academics and NGOs working to prevent fishing gear being lost, abandoned or discarded in our oceans in the first place as well as remove the gear that is already there.

As we’ve grown, the GGGI has become an important influencer of the conversation on marine pollution and the animal suffering inflicted by ghost gear.

And there’s a sense from participants that the time for action for our oceans is now.

These two key conferences are a huge moment to catalyse change for the millions of marine animals who are trapped, mutilated and killed by ghost fishing gear every year.

A partnership approach

In the lead-up to the UN Ocean Conference, we’re asking governments and other stakeholders to register their voluntary commitment to United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 14 related to ghost gear. Goal 14 is entirely focused on our oceans, with the first target calling for a significant reduction in marine pollution by 2025.

Since the GGGI registered its commitment to this goal, Belgium, Samoa, Tuvalu and Tonga have joined us, and we’re having positive conversations with many other governments.

Better gear management, safer oceans for animals

If we want to truly drive global change, getting the fishing industry itself on board is critical.

At the SeaWeb Seafood Summit in Seattle (5-7 June) we will be launching our best practice framework with industry stakeholders, talking to them about how to apply the principles to their supply chain. This will not only reduce the amount of ghost gear entering our oceans and harming sea animals – it can be economically beneficial to their businesses too.

We’re also in talks with several potential corporate partners likely to join the GGGI in the next few weeks.

We are starting to gather real momentum in engaging multiple stakeholders to join together and create truly global change to reduce marine litter and prevent animal suffering.

Seeing governments, the private sector and NGOs coming together, and starting to translate their commitments into on-the-ground projects that make an impact on the health of our oceans, including animals, is inspiring.

It’s an exciting time to be part of a global sea change – watch this space for more details.

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