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Another factor that is proving financially costly to fishermen and a danger to the marine environment, is loss of, or damage to fishing gear, which can lead to ghost fishing. “Ghost fishing” can be defined as the capture of any marine organism once control of the gear has been lost by the fisherman (Brown and Macfayden, 2007).


Ghost Fishing Cycle (WWW3)

Previous studies carried out on the impact of ghost nets in deep-water gillnet fisheries suggest that it may be a significant source of unaccounted mortality for both target and by-catch species (WWW1, Part 1, 1). This was explored in the EC-funded Pilot Project “Recuperation of Fishing Nets Lost or Abandoned at Sea” that was designed to (WWW1, Part 1, 1):

  • to conduct targeted retrieval exercises of lost, discarded and abandoned nets in deep-water gillnet fisheries > 200m
  • to conduct structured surveys in order to estimate the quantity and range of ghost nets in these fisheries.

It is important to note that ghost nets are not always present due to abandonment or negligence. Lost Nets can occur due to factors and conditions otherwise outside the control of the fisherman such as adverse weather conditions and gear malfunctions. Similarly these factors and conditions can result in the abandonment of operational netting in the short-term with the intention of later recovery. Nets may also be abandoned with no intention of retrieval. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (Macfayden et al., 2009) adverse weather, operational fishing factors (e.g. the cost of gear retrieval), illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, vandalism/theft, and access to, and, cost and availability of onshore collection facilities are all factors in the loss and damage of fishing gear.


Grey seal entangles in fishing net on the North Sea Coast (WWW4)

In this comprehensive report, Macfayden et al. (2009) go on to mention that *gillnets, **trammell nets and pots/traps have a high ghost fishing potential (Macfayden et al. 2009, 55) while other gear, such as trawls and longlines, are more likely to cause entanglement, and habitat damage. This means that lost nets or traps can continue to catch and kill a wide range of marine life. Incidents of ghost fishing in Irish waters are relatively low due to disciplined maintenance of gear by Irish fishermen (Brown and Macfayden, 2007). However, there have been reports of damage being done to nets, particularly by seals, which can put further financial pressures on the Irish commercial fishing industry (Cronin et al., 2014).


*Gillnet – is a wall of netting that hangs in the water column and is typically made of monofilament or multifilament nylon. Mesh sizes are designed to allow fish to get only their head through the netting,thus trapping the fish’s gills in the mesh as it tries to back out of the net (Image credit – Macfayden et al. 2009, 16 – 17) .

**Trammel Net – is a variation on the gillnet. It consists of three layers; two outer large mesh layers and a central net with finer mesh size. when caught, a fish pulls the smaller net through the larger outer nets trapping it (Image credit – Macfayden et al. 2009, 17-18).

Seán  and Orla-Peach


Brown, J., & Macfadyen, G. (2007). Ghost fishing in European waters: Impacts and management responses. Marine Policy, 31(4), 488–504.

Macfayden, G., Huntington, T., & Cappell, R. (2009). Abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper, 115

WWW1 – Deep Clean Survey Part 1 and Part 2

WWW2 – Deepwater Ghost-Fishing problem Eases. Marine Institute

WWW3 – Olive Ridley Project

WWW4 – Ghost Nets Threaten Marine Wildlife