Plastic waste pollutes every corner of the ocean, threatens aquatic wildlife, and even ends up in the seafood we buy and eat. Despite growing awareness, the problem continues to get worse. Ghost gear is one of the deadliest forms of marine plastic debris, given it is one of the most damaging types of marine plastic pollution for both species and habitats. Ghost gear can continue to catch species unselectively for years, potentially decimating important food resources as well as endangered species, such as marine mammals, seabirds, sharks, and turtles.  

While the unattended consequences of plastic use are finally beginning to receive the attention they warrant, the impacts of ghost gear are less visible and understood. Increasingly, companies are becoming interested in learning more about this problem and can now engage to be part of a solution to stop ghost gear.  

Here is a list of four things your company needs to know about the most dangerous plastic debris for our oceans:  

1. What is Ghost Gear?

Ghost gear is a common name for abandoned, lost, or otherwise discarded fishing gear such as gillnets, traps and pots, or fish aggregation devices. Gear is abandoned when the fisher cannot retrieve it, which happens when gear is snagged on reefs, rocks, or other obstructions. Gear is considered lost if a fisher cannot locate it or has lost operational control over it.

Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing also contributes to considerable amounts of ghost gear, as illegal fishers abandon or discard fishing gear to conceal their activities. Sometimes fishing gear is also discarded into the ocean deliberately. This behavior can be motivated by lack of adequate onshore disposal facilities, high disposal costs, or lack of storage space onboard.

2. Why Should Companies Care?

Companies are increasingly asked to reduce their plastic footprint by regulators and stakeholders and as part of their corporate responsibility strategies and commitments, and ghost gear worsens plastic pollution. It’s estimated that ghost gear makes up at least 10% of marine litter. That means somewhere between 500,000 and 1 million tons of fishing gear gets left in the ocean every year. That’s the equivalent of 40 times the weight of The Statue of Liberty.

Ghost gear is one of the deadliest forms of marine plastic debris, which damages vital ocean habitats and poses dangers to navigation and livelihoods. For example, nets, lines, and ropes from fishing and shipping make up 46% of the plastic floating in the North Pacific. Being associated with species loss and habitat destruction can be damaging for corporate brands and images.

Ghost gear can also undermine the sustainability and economic returns from fisheries as part of company harvest loss. Some studies estimate that over 90% of species caught in ghost gear are of commercial value. Other economic sectors are affected by this form of debris like tourism which may lose clients due to ghost gear spoiling an area’s natural beauty.

3. What is WWF Doing?

WWF works with governments, fishing gear producers and designers, fishers, companies, and the public to take decisive action and stop ghost gear from drowning the ocean we all depend on. WWF considers ghost gear a global problem that needs urgent action by supporting a new Global Plastics Treaty. Although ghost gear and plastic pollution are global problems, we don’t yet have an international treaty dedicated to tackling the issue. Existing laws are fragmented and ineffective.

WWF is also part of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI), an alliance of more than 100 organizations formed in 2015. GGGI aims at developing effective strategies by addressing the root causes of gear loss, and recognizing the safety, economic, and conservation issues with which fishers must work. GGGI calls for restricting the use of high-risk gear in certain areas or times of year, the use of biodegradable components, and retrieving as much lost and abandoned gear as possible.

What Can Companies Do?

Companies can contribute to a solution by joining the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI), the world’s only global cross-sectoral alliance committed to driving solutions to the ghost gear problem. Over 135 leading retailers, brands, fishing companies, governments, and non-government organizations have already joined the initiative, including WWF.

By joining the GGGI, companies can contribute to a cleaner, safer, and more resilient ocean and can participate in the collective cross-sectorial impact of GGGI and its members. Members can also access critical technical support to address ghost gear in their source fisheries and assist in developing the global capacity to solve this problem.

Once a member, the company would commit to promoting the mission of the GGGI, attend different sector-specific events and committees, communicate about its membership publicly through their website or communication materials, and complete annual surveys related to the annual GGGI report.

More information can be accessed here.