Making Ghost Nets Sexy–Hauling Them From Their Underwater Closets

Part 1 of 2 Parts


Charmaine Coimbra

While watching the gray whale migration north from her living room window. Nice.  They are beautiful.

Dining with a well-educated and eco-concerned and active friend recently, I brought up this ghost net business.  He gave me that deer-in-the-headlights look.  No matter how I spell it, ghost nets are not sexy.  The Pacific Ocean’s trash island draws more attention because you can see it.  Ghost nets are, well, like a ghost—not so much visible.

Maybe if I tie in the high cost of seafood to ghost nets, I can get some sexiness out of the subject.   So, put on your comfy clothes, open a box of dark chocolates, pour a glass of syrah, and watch this video.  Then read the rest of this blog. 

Salmon is a wildly popular food.  However, I’d bet, that unless you caught that hunk of salmon yourself (and that’s not cheap either), you think that your budget is swimming upstream because salmon is a pricey piece of omega-threes. “Wild Pacific salmon is at an all-time high…The most newsworthy cause of the shortage is the closing of California’s wild-salmon fisheries,” writes the Winston-Salem Journal.      

One of the causes, says the Washington Fish Growers Association, “Ghost nets.  This cost is largely unknown, but is thought to be quite serious by the environmental and fishing communities.”

What are they doing about it?  Here’s a one-minute piece of what’s happening in Puget Sound: 

An Expensive and Dangerous Project

“Well, it’s just some plastic netting,” the cynic notes.  “What’s so hard about removing it?”  Two-word reply: dangerous, expensive.

Ghost nets are huge.  Ghost nets are global.  NOAA estimates that more than 100 tons of ghost nets lurk in the ocean waters.

To begin retrieval of a 9000-pound ghost net wrapped around its sunken fishing vessel near Catalina Island, CA volunteers from Ocean Defenders Alliance took on the project.  Think big boats, cranes, very, very, experienced divers.,0,3092633.story

Be sure to check out Ocean Defenders Alliance website for additional video and information about this project,

The cost to remove ghost nets?  “One contractor estimated it would cost $25,000 to clear tangled nets from just two of the cables that anchor the Hood Canal Bridge to the sea floor, with disposal costing extra, said Patrick Clarke of the state Department of Transportation,” in a May 2000 Seattle Times report.

“In Washington, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife is the lead agency coordinating removal of derelict gear. The plan was established about six years ago to rid Puget Sound of abandoned nets and crab pots.

Under that initiative, more than 1,500 sunken crab pots and 900 abandoned fishing nets have been removed at a cost of about $1.75 million. Most of the removal work is done by Northwest Straits Initiative, a group that receives federal, state and private grants for the projects.

Project leaders estimate it will cost an additional $4.5 million to remove almost all derelict fishing gear from Puget Sound by the year 2012…For now, days on the water depend on having the money to search for and remove the old nets and crab pots. Natural Resources Consultants has completed about 75 days of gear removal this year, costing about $3,500 each day for the boat and professional divers, June said.

Additional survey work, at about $2,500 a day, helps scientists locate lost crab pots and fishing nets using acoustic sonar and underwater cameras,” the Seattle Times reported in October 2008.   



NOAA photo of floating fish net, caught in coral

NOAA photo of floating fish net, caught in coral

NOAA notes, “The problem (of ghost nets) is particularly severe in the (near-pristine)Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI), where divers with knives are removing nets from the coral one handful at a time. Since 2000, roughly 100-tons of debris have been removed from the reefs in this way each year by NOAA Fisheries.”






Besides the financial implications, one irreparable loss is the perilously endangered Hawaiian monk seal.  Because Hawaiian monk seals’ principle breeding populations are located in the NWHI, compounded by the large expanse of ghost nets trapped in NWHI’S coral reefs or floating at the surface, and generally wrecking eco-havoc, the Hawaiian monk seals suffer the “greatest entanglement rate of any seal or sea lion to date,” according to Sea Grant Publication: UNIHI-SEAGRANT-AR-05-01.  Consequently, NOAA, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center and other stakeholders created the largest multi-agency underwater marine debris removal program.

I’m ashamed that I’m talking just money here.  The Seattle Times reminds us in another report that, “Lost fishing gear is also a hazard for divers. On Earth Day 1998, experienced recreational diver Meghan Reeling was helping clean up the area around Les Davis Pier in Tacoma. The 42-year-old Tillicum woman drowned after she became entangled in discarded fishing line, even though she carried a knife.”

Without humor intended, that’s a sex-buzz kill.  But I’m not trying to sex any one up with this series.  I just want inlanders and the rest of us to understand that the ghost net situation wantonly kills our favorite sea creatures, our favorite edible sea creatures, raises the cost of our food, our taxes AND wantonly kills us—those persons unfortunate enough to either be serendipitously caught like a seal in a net, or killed while trying to remove ghost nets.

The internet is filled with fabulous sites with more ghost net information than any one human could consume in a lifetime.  Forward this blog to a friend.  Follow the links. Take action. 

Part three will discuss the science of finding ghost nets and will also discuss the global effort to educate, halt and resolve ghost nets remaining inside their underwater closets.


Categories: Fishing Lines, Ghost Nets

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 reply


  1. Dramatic Rescue of Humpback Whale off California’s Central Coast « Neptune 911!

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