The Ghosts of Fishing Past

ghost fishing

With the holiday season in full swing, environmentally conscious gift shoppers may be looking to spend their dollars to benefit a cause. One option is to support companies making products that help the environment in creative ways. An often unseen problem in the ocean is discarded commercial fishing nets and other gear, including traps, trawls, and longlines. Fishing nets are typically made from plastic nylon, and if they become entangled or lost while in use, the owners often leave them at sea, resulting in millions of tons of nets free-floating throughout the oceans. These discarded nets can stretch up to 4 km long and, although no longer being operated, continue to trap and kill animals such as sea birds, turtles, whales, dolphins, corals, and fish, creating a problem known as “ghost fishing.” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that up to 79 percent of fishing gear is lost at sea in some areas.

Organizations and governments throughout the world have begun seeking solutions to address this problem, including better reporting and retrieval methods for lost gear, or better technology that decreases by-catch. An alternative to plastic nets, which can take centuries to decompose, are fishing nets made from coconut fibers that eventually biodegrade. However, coconut nets still take time to break down and create a lot of water pollution in their manufacturing. The best approach seems to be many sided, including increasing removal of lost nets and developing incentives to prevent more from being lost at sea. The NOAA Marine Debris Program creates renewable energy from old fishing gear, and promotes the collection of oceanic net debris and the proper disposal of old nets by paying fishermen to turn them in at docks.

Some companies have also made the leap to creating “ocean positive” products that recycle abandoned fishing nets. StarSock, a company from the Netherlands, makes socks from ECONYL® yarn that consists of recycled nets, and also founded the Healthy Seas Initiative, a nonprofit that seeks to end ghost fishing. Bureo, a California company, makes sunglasses, skateboards, and more from nets collected by fishermen in Chile. Fishpond , a Certified B Corporation, is using recycled nets to make fishing gear, and Koru Swimwear is a New Zealand company that uses only ECONYL® material. If you’re looking for gift ideas, these are just a few products that put a positive twist on a pollution problem.