Ghost Fishing UK and the Big Scapa Clean Up

” A destructive cycle of degradation”

Fishing in Orkney supports 354 full/part time jobs on 142 vessels. 102 of these vessels are under 10m. The industry works hard in Orkney to be sustainable  and care for the marine environment. Collaboration is key to a sustainable inshore fishery in the islands.

For 4 years Ghost Fishing UK have been coming to Scapa Flow, Orkney, to remove lost or discarded fishing gear and other materials littering the sea bed. This successful project has expanded over those years working together with ICIT Heriot Watt, Stromness and Orkney Sustainable Fisheries to produce data on the effects of  litter on the  marine environment.

Ghost fishing

Photograph by Christine Grosart for Ghost Fishing UK . All rights reserved

On Tuesday 2nd October in the Town Hall, Stromness members of the public were able to hear about the work that has taken place in Orkney and its wider implications.

The Big Scapa Clean Up

Dr Joanne Porter (co author Dr Mike Bell) of ICIT looked at the local context of the ‘Big Scapa Clean Up’.

Dr Porter ICIT

Dr Porter explained the importance of the inshore fishing industry to Orkney and that the Orkney Creel Fishery is currently going through accreditation for an eco label with the Marine Stewardship Council. This is part of a Fisheries Improvement Project (FIP) which the industry has been working towards for several years.

“The participants involved in the FIP include Orkney Sustainable Fisheries Ltd, Orkney Fishermen’s Society, Crown Estate, Orkney Islands Council, Marks & Spencer, Marine Scotland, WWF and Young’s Seafood.WWF

The eco label is an important one to look out for when you are buying fish.

“the blue fish label is only applied to wild fish or seafood from fisheries that have been certified to the MSC Fisheries Standard, a science-based set of requirements for sustainable fishing.MSC

One of the issues being looked at by the researchers is ‘how long does lost gear continue to fish for?’ Not only does this mean that animals die having been trapped but the knock on effect of this is ‘how much stock is lost to ghost fishing?

There is very little data to even start to answer these questions. The work being done in Orkney will add to a  GGGI (Global Ghost Gear Initiative)  data base.

Plastics in Our Seas

The wider implications of plastics in our seas was taken up with the talk given by Dr Angela Capper. She referred to a 10 year study into marine litter which showed that the Scottish Continental Shelf (which includes Orkney) contained the highest amount of plastic at 66%. One of her students has completed a shoreline survey of 35 beaches in Orkney. The finds have been categorised and recorded. 19,355 pieces of marine litter was picked up during the research period. 77% of it was plastic – mostly rope or string. But it also included agricultural feed bags, pegs from mussel aquaculture and shotgun cartridges.

Dr Capper

The research indicates that 47% was from the fisheries sector, 21% from agriculture/construction, 10% from leisure/tourism and 1% most likely from recently dropped litter. Although local initiatives like ‘Pick up 3 pieces’ and Bag the Bruck’ had been effective if the waste gathered was not collected then it ends up blowing back to the shore line again. It was also clear that the waste washed ashore in Orkney does not all originate in Orkney.

Dr Capper also touched on the work of some of her other  students : collecting data on microplastics in fish ; and the high levels of microplastics attached to blades of sea grass. Both these will be fed on by other animals in the food chain.

The Green Shore Crab

Catherine Tait’s research was looking specifically at the ingestion of microplastics by the green shore crab.

The green shore crab is an indiscriminate feeder and therefore susceptible to microplastic uptake. She surveyed 10 sites in Orkney and 1 in Shetland. Examining the stomach contents of 77 green shore crabs she found that they contained over 500 pieces of plastic. These tiny plastic fibres are the result of larger pieces breaking up and dispersing throughout the marine environment. Some will even have come from synthetic clothing. Over 1900 fibres will come from a single garment in one wash and not all of these are caught by waste treatment facilities.

World Animal Protection

Giving us a more international dimension to the topic was Peter Kemplehardy of World Animal Protection and their Sea Change Campaign.

“Every year more than 100,000 whales, dolphins, seals and turtles get caught in abandoned or lost fishing nets, lines and traps. Made of durable material, this ghost gear can take up to 600 years to break down. Some nets are bigger than football pitches. If these nets float in the ocean they will continue to endanger animals for years to come.”

They are building up the scientific evidence about ghost fishing with a data portal which is international. Marine litter is moved around and what is washed ashore in Orkney has very often started its journey elsewhere.  The organisation is working with all sectors of the fishing industry to develop best practice.

It also relies on individuals to take action.They can :

The Scapa Flow Project

The final speaker was Richard Herrmann of Ghost Fishing UK who explained in detail the Scapa Flow project.

ghost fishing 4

All the divers have been trained in how to retrieve the gear safely. The team has expanded over the 4 years since its beginnings but all the divers are volunteers and give up holidays etc to come to Orkney and clean up Scapa Flow. They now have 2 boats and over 20 divers taking part.

What has been collected?

2015: 60 pots/creels, 100Kg netting, 1.5Km ropes

2016: 51 pots/creels,———————-, 1.0Km ropes

2017: 34 pots/creels, 100Kg netting, 200+m ropes

Ghost Fishing

Photograph by Felicity Flashman. All rights reserved

Once the material is collected they  like to return what they can to the fishing community and recycle what is left.

All animals found dead or alive are categorised and entered onto the GGGI data base.

They also rely on divers reporting where they find gear – you can find out more information by visiting the Big Scapa Clean Up.

Reporters: Fiona Grahame and Nick Morrison


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