When a net is not needed anymore out at sea, the net then becomes ghost gear floating in the ocean, trapping and killing marine life that becomes entangled.
This is the all-too familiar scene across the oceans today as ghost gear indiscriminately kills for decades, entangling or suffocating sharks, fish, whales, dolphins, turtles, seas and birds.
An estimated 30% percent of the decline in some fish populations is a result of discarded fishing equipment, while more than 70% of marine animal entanglements involve abandoned plastic fishing nets.
Approximately 46% of the 79 thousand tons of ocean plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is made up of fishing nets, some as large as football fields, according a study published in March 2018 in Scientific Reports.
Because of the immense size of the ocean, most of these nets never go noticed and remain floating in the seas for years. It
In another tragic example of the devastation ghost gear causes, Jules O’Shea discovered a net during a beach clean-up and posted to her twitter @jules1230 the tragic sight of 25 dead cat shark and two smooth hounds trapped.
Last #2minutebeachclean of holidays this morning & found huge deadly #ghostnet – had to cut 25 dead catshark & 2 smoothhounds out – luckily net wasn’t covered in sand so were able to drag it off the beach & will recycle it with the help of @SeaTrustWales pic.twitter.com/W5myi5vFOi— Jules O’Shea (@jules123O) January 4, 2020
Currently, there is little to no regulation on nets worldwide as governments require little ownership on marking gear and there is no international regulations, guidelines, or common practices that exist to hold those accountable for nets deployed in international waters.
One possible solution to prevent the abandonment of fishing gear is to mark it with electronic and acoustic tags, which would presumably make it easier to recover, as well as making it easier to hold those that discarded the gear accountable.
The problem was not always this bad as before the 1960s, nets were mostly made from biodegradable hemp or cotton prior to the norm today which is mostly made from synthetic, degrade-resistant materials like nylon.