Dockside Discoveries: Fishing for Knowledge

Orange panel with text and photo of ghost nets underwater on a blue wall
The Ghost Net display in the Cannery’s Waves of Innovation exhibition

Submitted by Jordan Fenske

The Ghost Net Effect

Ghost Nets are nets that have been lost to, or discarded into, the ocean. They are most often nearly impossible to see underwater and can be massive in size. These floating phantoms can wreak havoc on marine wildlife and habitats.

These nets have been damaged and discarded or simply lost at sea by fishermen. The reason they are so harmful to marine life and habitats is because they are extremely difficult to see in dim lighting, making recovery nearly impossible. Also, the shear number of ghost nets adds to this danger. The ghost nets drift in the open sea or get entangled or snagged onto a surface such as a rocky reef.

These nets entangle every kind of marine species such as fish, dolphins, turtles, and crabs, and even whales. The nets are so dangerous because they are designed to immobilize and restrict the movement of what is caught. This leads to starvation, laceration, infection, and suffocation for the creatures that need to breach the surface of the water for air. The ghost nets kill and entangle a significant number of marine wildlife. The nets also add to the pollution of the ocean as they are made of pollutants. A survey conducted by the National Marine Fisheries Service estimates that ghost nets and gear account for approximately 10% of all marine litter.

To fully understand the “ghost net effect”, one must look at all the relevant perspectives. Mainly, the workers and families whose livelihood depend on the fishing industry. Those in the industry have a deep respect and love of the oceans and its wildlife, as it is how they feed their families. Ghost nets are mostly left behind as a result of accidents or unintentionally, as mistakes happen everywhere in life.

Many in the industry are taking initiative to fix the effects of ghost gear. For example, the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, as featured in the Cannery’s Waves of Innovation exhibit, involves a vast number of NGOs, academics, corporations and fishing families who assist in the collection of ghost gear, including nets, and work hard to recycle all the materials gathered. Though the ghost nets do have some significant effect on the oceans, organizations like this around the world are working hard to avoid worsening the problem and to make things better.

Aquamarine panel with text next to two black and white photos on a dark blue wall