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  • Writer's pictureMako

Should fishing gear be electronically tagged?

Updated: Jun 29, 2022

Every time I read about the incredibly arduous work that the Ghost Diving organization is doing to recover abandoned, dumped and lost fishing gear from the seas and oceans, I start thinking about how fishing operators could be incentivized, or in fact compelled, to take responsibility for their nets, about how they can be held accountable for tools of trade.

Some studies estimate that a staggering 640,000 tonnes of ghost gear is left in our oceans every single year killing nearly 200 000 whales, dolphins, seals, and turtles. This number is probably higher, as the original estimate is based on a study several decades old. Ghost gear can also hamper safe navigation, damage beaches and reefs, endanger scuba divers and swimmers, and lead to economic losses for fisheries and other marine-dependent industries. Most fishing gear is constructed from plastic resulting in making a significant contribution to oceans plastic pollution. A 2016 UNEP publication reported that, by volume, ghost gear accounts for 70 percent of all macro-plastic marine litter in the oceans.

There are many reasons why fishing nets are left in the ocean. Some of the not so obvious driving factors include:

  • Lack of incentive: fishing companies don’t take the materials back

  • Lack of infrastructure to dispose of used and broken fishing nets

  • Little sense of responsibility among producers and fishing supply companies for proper disposal

At present, there are no standardised reliable ways of identifying the owners of lost or abandoned fishing gear, so it is very difficult to hold fishing operators responsible and accountable.

One of the possible solutions is electronic tagging of nets that would help in detecting and locating lost gear, identifying ownership, and distinguishing legal fishing gear from illegal gear. Several companies and organizations are looking at creating ways of providing affordable and reliable electronic fish nets tagging.

For example, Norwegian-based Ocean Space Acoustics (OSAC) and Norway’s largest research institute SINTEF designed and patented a ‘PingMe’ electronic transponder pod for tagging gear and objects underwater. The transponders can be integrated with the boat’s sonar or used as a stand-alone system. Work is already underway to provide a system that will allow for simple integration of the signal reader into any vessel’s existing sounder.

As it will take time before some of these technologies are universally adopted and enforced, in meantime we need to rely on the extraordinary work of organizations such as Ghost Diving and others to remove the potentially deadly tools of the fishing trade from our oceans.

There are an estimated 6 to 9 million active scuba divers around world. This number should represent a very powerful voice which could be used to draw attention to the universal problem of ghost fishing gear. Visit the Scubavox Marine Conservation database to find an organization that can provide you with a platform where you could be heard.


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