Ghost gear - lost and discarded fishing nets, longlines, and other equipment - is clogging Greenland’s fishing grounds and entangling fish, birds and marine mammals. It’s also a source of plastic pollution in our oceans.
A team supported by WWF is spearheading a project to retrieve ghost gear and recycle it on a large scale. Our aim is to clean up Greenland’s fishing grounds and set the standard for more sustainable Arctic fisheries.
1. Nothing but nets
Ghost nets are tragically efficient - once they’ve been discarded, they continue to catch fish. A new study shows that a year after a gill net is lost it still catches nearly a fifth as many fish as an actively managed net. That’s bad news for fish populations and the people who depend on them.
Kaare Winther Hansen is working to put an end to Greenland’s wasteful ghost gear fishing. Along with local fishermen, he’s heading out on a ship specially fitted to retrieve ghost gear.
Bringing the gear home
Kaare Winther Hansen is WWF's project coordinator in Greenland.
Greenland’s fishing communities are overwhelmed by old fishing gear, both on land and in the sea.
On the first trip out, the team discovered that their gear was too light to pull nets to the surface so they added weight and heavy chains. Success!
They also learned to go slowly. Long lines tend to tangle together and break when pulled up. By day two, they collected a pile of nets, long lines, and even a crab pot.
2. Plastic Ocean
Walruses resting on a beach in northernmost Svalbard. Even here, at the top of the world, fishing nets wash up on shore.
Nets aren’t only a problem for the sea life they entangle.
Fishing gear lost at sea can add a significant amount of plastic pollution to the ocean. Tiny plastic fibres enter the marine food chain, even in the remote Arctic.
A recent study found that microplastics are now found everywhere in Arctic waters. 87% of Northern Fulmar have pieces of plastic in their stomach, and at least one reindeer has died from entanglement on land.
A UNEP/FAO report estimates that 10% of ocean plastic comes from fishing nets. Taking these plastics out of the food web is an important step in supporting healthy oceans and a healthy planet.
3. A new life for ghost nets
Thanks to this successful pilot project, Kaare and his team have the technology to reduce ghost fishing in Greenland.
Our goal is to stop fishing gear from being lost or tossed in the first place. That’s why WWF is advocating for:
- Gear that can be traced to its owner
- Refundable deposits on fishing gear to encourage returning, rather than discarding
- Tools to make lost gear easier to find, like sonar reflectors
- Insurance incentives to encourage retaining and disposing of gear properly
Greenland’s population is too small to support a dedicated recycling facility, so Kaare is working with recycling specialists in Denmark to give ghost gear a second life.
The amount of lost fishing gear is overwhelming. Now we know it’s possible to retrieve it. Your donation will help us retrieve and recycle more fishing gear, and ensure less is lost in the first place.
Kaare Winther Hansen, WWF-Denmark