Technology, Art & Law Try Scaring Ghost Nets Away

Part 2 of 2 Parts


Charmaine Coimbra

Now that Wasilla, AK is finally on the national-attention map, I can discuss the Wasilla based High Seas Ghost Net Project, ghostnet_s1 without wishing our readers knew where Wasilla might be located.

Using satellite-based remote sensing, the High Seas Ghost Net Project in partnership with NOAA and other agencies detect and track derelict fishing gear at sea. Check out their buoy track page at 

This is not an end-all solution to the global ghost net challenge.  The team, however, discovered, through satellite imagery, that during spring many ghost nets pass through the Sub-Tropical Convergence Zone ( ) north of the Hawaiian Islands.  Following this lead, a suite of remote sensors were attached to aircraft to confirm a higher debris concentration in this area.  Nets were tagged during aerial searches for retrieval by surface ship.

·         One of the planet’s largest catch-basin, as it could be called, for ghost nets is The Gulf of Carpentaria (GoC)–a large and almost completely landlocked body of water in northern Australia. It is a remote part of Australia where one would find Indigenous communities and mining towns. From, “Nearly all (90%) of the marine debris entering the GoC is of a fishing nature and originates from all parts of south East Asia. Once the ghost nets are in the Gulf, due to the circular current- gyre, they are stuck in an endless cycle of fishing, getting washed ashore and washed back into the water during a storm or use-this-gocmapking tide event. On the eastern side of the Gulf (western Cape York) the nets arrive during the monsoonal season from November to March ,while on the western shores the nets get swept in during the south east trade winds mainly between May – September.”

Take a moment to watch this video about efforts to remove and halt ghost nets in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

·         In 2005 Norway published the Deepnet1 Project which brought about, the Council of European Union Fisheries Ministers agreeing to close the deepwater gillnet fishery in the North-East Atlantic (NEAT)1.

·         “The DEEPCLEAN surveys planned for 2008 will be the largest coordinated retrieval exercise conducted in the North East Atlantic (a total of 80 days) and will cover a wide area off the coast of Ireland and the UK including Rockall and the Porcupine. Depths from 200m-1000m will be covered to encompass both the hake and monkfish fisheries,” writes the Irish Sea Fisheries Board.

Where there are seas and fisheries, the ghost net issue exists.  Nations around the world are trying to resolve these issues, however, rogue nations, fishing pirates, and lack of education continue the use of, loosing and cutting ghost nets into the sea.

The Marine Debris Research, Prevention and Reduction Act was signed into United States law in December 2006.  Other US mandates include High Seas Driftnet Fisheries Enforcement Act (16 U.S.C. 1826a-1826c, November 2, 1992); and High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 1826d-1826g, November 3, 1995).  Coastal states have also initiated driftnet moratoriums.

The United Nations banned large-scale driftnets.  The EU followed suit and voted in 1998 to phase out the use of all pelagic driftnets by December 2001. When five sperm whales were entangled in fishing nets off Italy’s coast in 2005, it was clear that Italy was one of the biggest European offenders of the ban by weaving in and out of the legal EU net.  “…the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM)

Three of the five sperm whales entangled in a fishing net off Italy's coast.  A Cetacean Society International photo.

Three of the five sperm whales entangled in a fishing net off Italy's coast. A Cetacean Society International photo.

adopted a binding resolution where driftnets of any length were prohibited for capturing large migratory species. Compliance with these agreements, however, is far from effective. Countries such as Italy, France, Morocco, Turkey and Algeria are still using this fishing gear, making up a Mediterranean fleet of more than 500 vessels,” according to Oceana, a European environmental action organization.

On the bright side, recovered nets in Hawaii are incinerated to produce electrical power; a University of Michigan Bluelab project challenged engineering students to find creative ways to recycle ghost nets; in Carpentaria, indigenous peoples were challenged to find art and useful recycling of ghost nets.  The once killing nets reincarnated as hammocks, chairs and even guitar straps.

The reality, however, is that this mess will not improve, or so says a report sponsored by the  U.S. Coast Guard, the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council:  Marine Debris Will Likely Worsen In The 21st Century; Goal Of Zero Waste Discharge Should Be Adopted.

They site lack of accountability, high costs, few incentives, and the provision of adequate reception facilities, particularly in remote regions.

This ends, for now, our ghost net series.  It has not been nor has it ever been intended to be an indictment against our fisheries.  I wrote this for information and awareness.  Little deeds can bring big change. 


A Call To Action

Surfrider Foundation:


Gill Nets Kill:

World Wildlife Federation: &

Cetacean Society International:

American Cetacean Society:

NOAA Fisheries: Office of Protected Resources:

Ocean Net:


Categories: Condition of Oceans, Ghost Nets

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