Research highlights the impact of ghost gear

Map of witnessed entanglement Map of witnessed entanglement

The first ever assessment of how ghost fishing gear is affecting the coastline of Cornwall in the UK has been carried out.

A key finding of the research - commissioned by World Animal Protection UK - is that when interaction and entanglement risks were combined, 26% of all ghost gear items recorded posed a serious threat to marine animals.

A total of 4,226 new ghost gear items were recorded by volunteers on land and by World Animal Protection funded boat-based surveys during the 12 month study period, amounting to 49,917 litres or 51 tonnes from 147 different locations. The researchers were able to remove 14 tonnes of ghost gear during their research, reducing the immediate risk to marine animals in the area, particularly to seals (risk dropped from 47% to 24%).

The work was undertaken by Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust to support World Animal Protection’s Sea Change campaign and explored the severity of the ghost gear problem in Cornwall by looking at:

  • The types and amount (volume and number of items) of ghost gear present along the coastline of Cornwall
  • The spatial extent of, and seasonal changes in, ghost gear along the coast
  • An assessment of the interaction and entanglement risks posed to marine animals

The research is a snapshot of the problem in UK waters and World Animal Protection is hoping this research inspires other researchers to undertake similar projects in their regions to build a more accurate global picture of the issue.

The study found that 40% of items identified posed an interaction risk, and at established seal sites 82% (by items) posed an interaction risk to seals. Monofilament line, all types of net and pots posed the greatest risk to marine animals.

Also, 58% of items identified posed entanglement risks. At established seal sites entanglement risks decreased to 54% (possibly because many items at seal sites were buoys and floats, posing a small entanglement risk specifically to seals).  All types of net, line, rope and pots posed the greatest risk to marine animals.

Ghost gear directly affected 52 individual creatures from at least 12 different species which were recorded as entangled.

“While this research was being conducted we saw lobster pot tags travelling 3,000 miles from Newfoundland to Shetland and pieces of gear hitching a ride on the Gulf Stream from Canada to Cornwall but the lack of research meant finding the right solutions was a real challenge,” said Campaign Manager at World Animal Protection, Christina Dixon.

“Ghost gear is a trans-boundary problem, and it’s essential that efforts to address it are undertaken collaboratively across countries. We hope this study can be used as a model for other researchers to get a better idea of the impact of ghost gear in different regions.”


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