Since 23rd September, the Ghost Fishing UK team have been working hard to remove “Ghost Fishing” gear from the shipwrecks submerged in Scapa Flow, Orkney. They are being supported by World Animal Protection and the Fat Face Foundation, the charitable arm of international clothing brand Fat Face.
Ghost Fishing Why bother?
- Lost fishing gear keeps on doing what it was designed for, catching fish/shellfish as well as sea mammals like seals and dolphins.
- It causes unnecessary suffering/death to wildlife.
- It reduces fishing stocks.
- Lost Creels are also dangerous on land as they can trap small mammals.
The team have been using two of the dive boats normally used by recreational divers to visit the wrecks of the German High Seas fleet, sunk almost 100 years ago.
MV Sunrise is hosting seven new recruits to the team. They are being trained in marine life survey by Dr Joanne Porter of Heriot Watt University. The data collected will help to assess the impact of ghost fishing gear on the marine environment, and to better target efforts in the future.
They have also been learning how to use lifting bags to raise the ghost gear from the seabed. These devices are attached to the ghost gear and then filled with air by the divers. The ghost gear then floats to the surface where it is retrieved by the surface teams. Lifting bags are simple in principle, but have the potential to entangle the divers and drag them to the surface, risking decompression sickness, otherwise known as the “bends”.
MV Halton has been working on one of the battleships sunk after the end of World War I, the SMS Markgraf. This 176m long battleship lies 45m below the surface of Scapa Flow. Divers have been spending as long as 40 minutes at this depth working on recovering shellfish creels, trawling nets and old ropes that have become entangled in the wreck.
They also removed a large dredge. This steel device would have been dragged along the seabed to collect scallops. It weighed approximately 100kg and required three lifting bags to bring it to the surface. Attached to the dredge was a large net that would have collected the shellfish. Another net nearby was also removed from the seabed. This took over an hour of work, on two separate dives, to free it from the seabed. Divers have to be trained for this work as it is HAZARDOUS to them and the work has to be Licensed.
World Animal Protection, who have provided significant funding for this project, are a charity devoted to ending all animal suffering around the world. Over 640,000 tonnes of ghost fishing gear is estimated to be lost in the oceans every year, which poses a huge risk to seabirds, whales, dolphins, turtles, fish and shellfish. To address the issue, World Animal Protection created the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI), an international collaboration between industry, governments and volunteers to reduce, remove and recycle ghost gear. Ghost Fishing UK is a member of the GGGI.
The creels, nets and ropes recovered during this project will be recycled or reused using a multitude of avenues. Nets can be recycled into clothing, creels can sometimes be refurbished by the fishing industry, and ropes are cleaned and processed into mats, doorstops and other ornamental pieces by Orkney artist Mark Cook of Afrayedknot.
The recycling aspect of this project is also reflected in the other major partner in the project – the Fat Face Foundation. They take the recovered fishing net send it to a factory in Slovenia where it is recycled into items like swim wear, socks etc. 80% of recovered nets are recycled. Fat Face have recently released a new swimwear line made with a fabric manufactured from recycled fishing nets.
Ghost Fishing UK, World Animal Protection and Fat Face are working together to make the oceans cleaner and safer places, and to develop a proactive system to remove and recycle ghost fishing gear from the seas around the UK.
Ghost fishing gear is by no means exclusively the fault of local fishermen. The largest known net to wash ashore in Orkney came from the US, probably Florida. and a small piece found in Swanbister bay probably came from Iceland for example.