Scientists have calculated that the overall volume of fishing nets lost or thrown in the ocean each year is equivalent to South Carolina.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, 300,000 whales and dolphins are thought to perish each year due to fishing gear entanglement, despite the fact that fishing gear is intended to be resilient and long-lasting. Lost or discarded fishing gear is a significant contributor to ocean pollution (WWF)
Microplastics, microscopic, pervasive plastic particles that have increasingly been discovered practically everywhere on Earth, from the pinnacle of Mount Everest to the foetuses of pregnant women, are also produced in frightening quantities by lost fishing gear. According to one study, the British fishing fleet alone may release between 326 million and 17 billion microplastic particles from fishing rope each year.
Researchers from Australia calculated that a startling 75,000 square kilometres (28,957 square miles) of purse seine nets—a substantial wall of netting that is deployed around an entire area of fish—might be lost to the ocean every year in a new study that was published in the journal Science Advances on October 12.
This is in addition to gillnets that cover slightly under 3,000 square kilometres (1,158 square miles) and trawl nets that cover 218 square kilometres (84 square miles).
In terms of square miles, this area of netting is roughly equal in size to the states of Maine or South Carolina in the United States.
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There is still more pollution. The researchers also calculated that 25 million pots and traps, together with 459,555 miles of longline fishing line—enough to span from Earth to the moon and almost all the way back again—are lost to the ocean every year.
The statistics are based on 451 fishers from seven different nations who were questioned about their annual losses and gear usage. On the basis of information on the world’s fishing effort, these stated loss rates were then multiplied on a global scale.
According to the interviews, even a single fishing fleet typically loses 58,000 square metres of purse seine nets annually.
The statistics, according to Tamara Galloway, chair in Ecotoxicology at the University of Exeter in the U.K., are “staggering” and “represent the reality of the global population’s dependency on seafood,” she told Newsweek.
She claimed that “ghost fishing,” in which marine life becomes entangled and perishes, is particularly risky when it involves lost or abandoned nets. This problem not only results in animal suffering but also causes significant habitat loss and protein supply losses.
However, not all nations are inclined to legislate for these, according to Galloway. “There have been some extremely effective interventions involving biodegradable nets built out of waste biomass, ‘fishing for litter’ plastic waste recovery programmes, floating harbour litter bins, etc.,” he said.
“Our recent research in the remote Galapagos Island, for example, found microplastics right across the base of the marine food web. We’ve also quantified microplastics in high-value seafood intended for human consumption in Australia, showing that what we throw away really can come back to harm us,” the researchers wrote.
“Fishing gear is often designed to be resilient to the harsh conditions of the ocean and to handle a lot of weight, but this often means that some of these lost materials and equipment will continue to exist for long periods of time,” Coleen Suckling, assistant professor in sustainable aquaculture at the University of Rhode Island, told Newsweek.
According to Suckling, vulnerable species like sea turtles, sharks, rays, seabirds, and marine mammals can be negatively impacted by ghost fishing as a result of misplaced or discarded gear.
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