Boat on water, Ghost Fishing UK, Christine Grosart

Tackling ghost fishing gear in UK waters

2 minute read

Tonnes of lost fishing gear ends up in our ocean annually. Known as 'ghost fishing', it’s a phenomenon that goes largely undocumented. These nets and lines can trap and endanger precious marine life.

As a scuba diver, seeing lost fishing nets, pots and lines underwater is the norm. Scuba divers are aware of the hazards this lost fishing gear, known as ‘ghost gear’, can pose, not only to them but to marine life.

It lies quietly in wait, sometimes drifting huge distances with the ocean currents, catching unsuspecting marine life. Trapped animals die in the ghost gear and, acting as bait, attract larger predators that in turn become ensnared. This phenomenon is known as ‘ghost fishing’.

Diver with ghost net, Ghost Fishing UK, Christine Grosart

Ghost Fishing UK

Credit: Christine Grosart

The impact of such a large amount of lost fishing gear is largely undocumented and schemes such as the Global Ghost Gear Initiative are trying to get a handle on how big the problem is.

In 2015, with approval from Marine Scotland, the team set about training to survey and recover lost ghost gear and the haul was bountiful, with over 60 lost crab pots and several tonnes of fishing net recovered.

The UN estimates around 640,000 tonnes of fishing gear is lost every year – enough to fill the London Underground three times over, annually.

The divers were taught to survey nets and marine animals with the help of Dr Joanne Porter of Heriot Watt University and our volunteer dive project – Seasearch.

The divers honed their teamwork, establishing a procedure which mandated working as a team of three: one cutter, one helper and one safety overwatch.

Removing ghost gear from the ocean is complex and can be dangerous.

Entirely volunteer-run, Ghost Fishing UK members and supporters are constantly fundraising to offset the significant costs of boat charters, gas and transport of the nets. A single recovery day can cost £1,000 to remove on average 100kg of ghost gear.

Currently, Ghost Fishing UK has over 70 diving members and a waiting list of over 80 divers. One aim is to forge a trusting, working relationship with the fishing community. Ghost fishing UK is emphatically not anti-fishing. Fishing gear is rarely lost deliberately. Working with fishers and returning their expensive pots to them has proven a mutual way forward to find solutions to the problem.

Beyond the Blue

This short film follows two women who dedicate their time to protecting their local coastline in the UK.

Narrated by National Seasearch Coordinator, Dr. Charlotte Bolton, and trustee of Ghost Fishing UK, Christine Grosart (FRGS), the film explores a fresh, pragmatic approach to protecting our ocean while enabling access to those who enjoy and earn a living from it.

You can’t complain that something isn’t protected if you didn’t tell anybody it was there

Dr Charlotte Bolton

Showcasing the underwater beauty and diversity of the British Isles, the film focusses on divers not just looking, but seeing - and reporting - what they find underwater.

Director, editor, and main underwater videographer, Christine Grosart, says she's not happy to just ‘swim around’ when she goes diving - she feels the need to put her skills to use and do something ‘more’.

Footage includes divers: Gemma Thompson, Richard Walker, Fred Nunn, Jason Bramwell, Paul Duckworth, Joe Robinson, Tom Ball, Andy Rath, Martin Maple, Ian King, Colin Stratton, Christine Grosart.

Christine Grosart is a trustee, secretary and underwater videographer of the registered charity Ghost Fishing UK. She wrote the Ghost Fishing UK training course - the first in the world for teaching divers how to safely recover ghost gear.

Christine is a record-breaking cave explorer and has discovered and mapped brand new cave systems all over Europe. She also runs her own business as a caving instructor.