The world's largest derelict fishing gear removal project
WWF with a collaboration of experts, fishermen and divers have developed methods for removing lost fishing nets from the sea and shipwrecks on the seabed.
Solely in Polish Exclusive Economic Zone of the Baltic Sea there could be around 800 tonnes of derelict fishing gears. The problem with derelict nets, or better known as ghost nets, is that the nets have a retaining fishing capacity of 6 to 20% of their original catch capacity meaning the nets keep catching fish even after they are lost.
Actions to retrieve derelict fishing gear have been carried out by WWF in the Baltic region since 2011. In the summer months of 2015 between July and September WWF with over 100 Polish fishing vessels retrieved 268 tonnes of derelict fishing gear from the Baltic Sea. An electronic net tagging system is also being developed under the project. This system will permit to identify the owner of lost or abandoned gear and help minimise the practice of throwing old fishing nets directly in the sea.
In 2016, WWF Germany launched its ghost net dragging operations. Using the ‘net fork’ (originally designed by WWF Poland for lost net retrieval), WWF collaborated with local fishers, the fisheries and cultural heritage authorities and government agencies to identify target areas. The combination of a fishing vessel and a local diving team who marked lost net positions known by the fisheries authorities proved highly successful. In total, 5 tonnes of derelict fishing gear (wet weight) were retrieved.
Retrieval operations are sponsored by the German recycling company Tönsmeier, and results feed into the blueprint for derelict fishing gear removal generated by WWF Germany in the framework of the EU MARELITT project launched in March 2016.
In addition to trawl and gill nets, material brought up included old anchor chains, a fire hose, aluminum and copper cables, as well as a rusted ammunition shell. Hence, the ghost nets had not only continued to catch fish, but had also attracted seabed waste in substantial quantities. As a next step, recycling tests will show whether the mixed material can be reused as part of the marine plastics recycling chain.