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Abandoned fishing nets are the most lethal form of plastic debris to marine life, killing numerous species such as sharks, rays, birds, marine mammals and turtles, and among other factors have contributed to the vaquita and other small cetacean species being pushed to the brink of extinction, WWF warned today as it launched a global campaign for plastic-free oceans.
- Up to one million tons of fishing gear are lost each year in the world's oceans.
- Abandoned nets can continue to catch species such as turtles, sharks, rays and seabirds for decades and last hundreds of years to degrade.
- WWF launches global campaign for a New Treaty to Combat Marine Plastic Pollution.
The report "Stop Ghost Gear" points out that although this crisis is worsening, governments and industry are not paying enough attention to it, so WWF urges people to sign at go.panda.org/plastics the petition for a New Treaty to Combat Marine Plastic Pollution, which so far has gathered 1.9 million signatures. The goal is to add 100,000 new signatures in support of this petition and thus have the backing of more than 2 million people.
Abandoned fishing gear is responsible for injuring and killing over 557 marine species, including 66% of marine mammals, 50% of sea birds and all species of sea turtles, subjecting them to a slow, painful and inhumane death. They also damage vital marine habitats such as coral reefs and mangroves and threaten the food sources and livelihoods of coastal communities and fishermen.
Roberto Troya, WWF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, indicated that marine fisheries directly or indirectly employ more than 200 million people worldwide, while more than 3 billion people (almost half of the planet's population) depend on fish as their main source of protein.
"With a growing world population, there will be greater demand for marine resources and therefore increased use of fishing nets. Let's prevent the oceans from drowning in a sea of plastics," he said.
In Latin America, where fishing activity represents 15% of world production and where 3 million people depend directly or indirectly on fishing, the magnitude of the problem is unknown. "The lack of a regional diagnosis on the abandonment and loss of nets contrasts with the data that, at a global level, indicate that up to one million tons of fishing gear are lost in the oceans every year," said Aimée Leslie, Director of WWF Peru's Marine and Wildlife Program. A positive aspect, she said, "is that some Latin American countries already have recycling programs, which is a step in the right direction".
Not knowing the magnitude of the problem does not free us from the damage that the nets cause not only to marine species and the oceans but also to the fishing communities, since they reduce their income by reducing the possibilities of catching fish. "No fisherman wants to lose his fishing gear. It is their livelihood and can represent a considerable financial investment. But even in the best managed fisheries, fishing gear is abandoned or lost due to weather, mechanical problems or human error and also because of illegal fishing," Leslie added.
The damage to human health is also significant. Fishing gear is made of polymers and other polluting materials that, when swallowed by consumer species, become harmful to humans.
A recent study on global gear loss rates, drawn from sources primarily in the Northern Hemisphere, estimated that 5.7% of all fishing nets, 8.6% of traps and pots and 29% of all fishing lines used globally are abandoned, lost or discarded into the environment.
An example of the magnitude of the problem is that at least 46% of the 79,000 tons of plastic that make up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is made up of fishing gear.
To address this problem, Jorge Rickards, General Director of WWF Mexico, invited the public to join the #StopGhostGear campaign, which seeks to bring together more than 2 million adherents in favor of a New Treaty to Combat Marine Plastic Pollution and get at least 10 more countries to join the call for the creation of this Treaty.
The initiative calls on people to take a picture of a marine species wherever they find it - a tattoo, a book, a film, draw a hashtag over it and share it through their social networks as a way of making the situation visible, and to sign the petition at go.panda.org/plastics.
How can we stop ghost net fishing?
WWF experts say that this threat can be stopped through effective regulatory and binding measures, driven by the market, and voluntary, focusing on preventive, curative and mitigating policies and practices and innovation in fishing gear design.
For that reason, WWF invites governments around the world to adopt best practices for fishing gear management, identify where innovations can be implemented, and join the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI). This is the only global cross-sectoral partnership committed to driving solutions, offering its members access to critical technical support to address ghost nets in national fisheries, create the practice of collective impact, and help build global capacity to solve this problem.
"The world needs a strengthened legal framework to deal with marine plastic pollution and ghost gear, the current one is fragmented and ineffective. Therefore, we are asking governments to create a New Treaty to Combat Pollution by Marine Plastics," said Roberto Troya.
WWF is one of the world's largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with a global network active in more than 100 countries and territories. Its mission is to stop environmental degradation and build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and unnecessary consumption.Visit https://www.wwf.org.pe/ and Twitter @WWF_Peru