A new report released by Greenpeace has concluded that lost or deliberately abandoned fishing gear is one of the biggest plastic polluters in the oceans, representing up to 85% of the rubbish on the seafloor on seamounts and ocean ridges, and in the Great Pacific Gyre.
This number confirms the results of another study showing that fishing nets account for 46% of the trash found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and the majority of the rest is composed of other industrial-level fishing gear. The Garbage Patch is composed of two enormous masses of ever-growing garbage, one between Hawaii and California and the other stretches from Japan to the Hawaiian Islands, and currently it's three times the size of France.
Overall, this ‘’ghost gear’’ is estimated to make up 10% of the plastic waste in our oceans, but represents a much higher proportion of large plastics found floating at the surface — and this percentage doesn't even consider other types of rubbish from fisheries, such as packing containers, tape and buoys.
Greenpeace estimates that every year, more than 640,000 tonnes of nets, lines, pots and traps used in commercial fishing are dumped and discarded in the sea. 6% of all nets used, 9% of all traps and 29% of all longlines (fishing lines that are several miles long) remain as physical pollution dumped at sea.
This gear, made of plastic, has been used more and more over the past decades because they are light, buoyant and cheap. It is exactly because of these qualities that they are also so dangerous for marine life: taking centuries to decompose, they stay in the water and trap animals, which end up tangled and die due to drowning or starvation because they cannot go back to the surface to breathe or to eat. It's also a threat for animals that mistake these objects with food; not to mention it is also a hazard forship navigation and safety at sea.
Some of the most affected animals are crustaceans, turtles, seabirds, whales, sharks and dolphins. In 2018, for example, around 300 sea turtles were discovered dead, floating in Mexican waters, after being entangled in this ‘’ghost fishing’’ equipment.
Another threat: bycatch
Despite the plastic thrown in the sea, the fishing industry represents yet another problem: the bycatch. The fishing industry commonly uses drift nets, a technique that requires hanging nets vertically in the water to catch every fish that passes through that area. But because of the diversity of marine species, many other animals are caught unintentionally, which is called bycatch, and is becoming an unprecedented menace to wildlife, with some species even facing an extinction threat.
WWF conservatively estimates that at least 40%, or 38 million tonnes of annual global marine catch is bycatch. This is probably an underestimate, as statistics include very little information about the large marine animals, such as turtles, cetaceans and seabirds which are also caught. Still according to them, over 300,000 small whales, dolphins, and porpoises die from entanglement in fishing nets each year, making bycatch the single largest cause of mortality for small cetaceans.
Picture: Mercy for Animals
Not to mention fish, who are the main victims of the fishing industry! A report from FAO shows that, in 2012, 91.3 million tons of fish were captured, and this number only grows. Unfortunately, because of the way people still see fish, precise statistics on the number of individuals killed don't exist, but it's estimated to be trillions of animals.
Fish are intelligent and sensitive animals, some of them know how to make tools to hunt and others take good care of their babies. When killed for food, they face a slow and excruciating death: they often die of suffocation, without being able to breathe out of the water, or are cut and skinned while alive and conscious.
According to an Ellen MacArthur Foundation report launched at the 2016 World Economic Forum, there will be more waste plastic in the sea than fish by 2050. Of course, we have to do everything we possibly can to avoid this from happening: stop using single-use plastic such as straws, plastic bags and food containers is a good start, but we have to go further and also stop the fishing industry.
And guess what is the best way of doing that? Going vegan! Better for your health, for the animals and for the planet. It's easier than you think.