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Ghost nets: the lesser-know plastic pollutants threatening our oceans

As consumers, all the indications are that we are generally becoming more mindful of our plastic footprint, and how to reduce it, as time goes on. By taking a stand against straws, plastic bottles, bags and over-packaged goods, we can certainly feel confident in playing some small part in the wider crusade to help the planet. However, there’s much more to the plastic waste problem than some of the media imagery of this issue lets on.

What doesn’t come across from some of these hard-hitting photographs of our plastic-littered seas and beaches is that the vast majority of plastic in our oceans is actually abandoned fishing gear. So much so, that at least 46 percent of the plastic in the “Great Pacific garbage patch,” a floating mass of plastic debris the size of France, comes from fishing nets. According to World Animal Protection, 640,000 tons of fishing gear are lost in the oceans each year. These so called ‘Ghost nets’ are a danger to marine habitats and sea life, often entangling dolphins, whales, porpoises and sea lions. In 2016 there were 71 reported cases of whales caught in abandoned fishing gear off the U.S. Pacific coast. Even in their active state, these commercial trawling nets (also called drift nets) are a force for environmental damage, with an estimated 20 percent of animals caught in them classified as “bycatch,” or unwanted, according to The National Journal. Greenpeace say the solution to both the bycatch AND ghost net problem is to choose line-caught fish from small-scale fisheries.The line-caught sea bass and mackerel fisheries in SW England are a good option. It is worth nothing, though, that not all lines are good. For example, long-lines used in catching tuna need to have been specially adapted (which some aren’t) to avoid catching threatened species such as seabirds, sharks and turtles. If you must eat tuna, then go for skipjack or yellowfin caught by rod-and-line. For shellfish, choose hand-gathered scallops, winkles, clams, oysters or mussels rather than dredged ones, and pot-caught crabs, langoustines (scampi), and lobsters.

Image credit: @justcomics

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