Ghost gear

Ghost fishing gear (deliberately abandoned or accidentally lost nets, rope and line) poses a significant risk to marine wildlife around the world and in Cornwall.

Seals are particularly at risk. Being inquisitive animals, young seals can play with netting floating in the sea and end up with it around their necks. The incredibly tough, non-degradable synthetic net does not expand as the animals grow, meaning it often ends up slicing through their flesh, causing open sores and wounds that can become badly infected, prevent the animal from foraging or feeding properly, and even kill them.

The UK is home to 112,300 grey seals (2013 figures), which is 38% of the entire world population. Over 250 individual seals around the Cornish coast have now been observed with netting, rope or other synthetic/ plastic materials entangled around their necks.

The sand-covered seal in the gallery above died two days after being rescued by British Divers Marine Life Rescue and the Cornish Seal Sanctuary in February 2015. She was only about four years old.

Five entangled seals were rescued in a 61-day period in the winter of 2014/2015. However, it is unfortunately logistically impossible to rescue all entangled seals.

Many other animals are also affected by ghost gear. Whales and dolphins can get rope and netting stuck around fins and tail flukes, cutting into their flesh, slowing them down and reducing their feeding success.

Some seabirds incorporate fishing line and net into their nests, sometimes resulting in the adults or babies becoming trapped or strangled.

Now the Cornwall Seal Group is working with World Animal Protection as part of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative to log and map the distribution of ghost net when it is found. This could be anything from a small, fist-sized piece up to whole nets – really anything with a loop that could potentially cause an entanglement hazard.

The basic information needed is a photograph, location of the find and description of its size. These can be emailed to:

An estimated 25,000 nets are recorded as lost or abandoned in the North East Atlantic each year