Divers hope to net support for the removal of ‘ghost’ fishing gear off west coast

By Dan Buckley

A team of Dutch technical divers are bringing their global campaign to rid the oceans of so-called ‘ghost gear’ to the west coast of Ireland next month.

Operation Stone and Pots takes place off Galway from September 3-6 and will be carried out by six volunteer technical divers who are part of the Ghost Fishing Foundation, an international non-profit organisation dedicated to cleaning up the marine environment.

They will remove lobster pots from the seabed and, depending on their condition, return them to fishermen for reuse.

Along with plastics, this gear continues to fish and trap animals, entangle and potentially kill marine life. They will be supported by German-based Gesellschaft zur Rettung der Delphine, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the conservation of wild dolphins and their habitats. GRD was founded in 1991 by Rollo Gebhard, a famous German sailor who sailed around the world three times.

It is the first time a mission to rid the seabed of the deadly traps will take place in Irish waters which boast a rich biodiversity that harbours 24 species of the world’s whales and dolphins.

During a preliminary survey dive in May off the west coast, divers recorded countless numbers of abandoned lobster pots at the bottom of the sea.

The baskets and their attachment ropes continue to kill countless sharks, fish or crustaceans.

“For the protection of the biodiversity in the oceans, it is very important to stop the senseless killing”, explains Verena Platt-Till of GRD.

The move follows support in June from the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee for a proposal by British Conservative MEP John Flack to include ‘ghost fishing’ as part of the campaign to rid the oceans of waste plastic.

The proposals recommend that the EU and Member States:

Set up port reception schemes where financial incentives are offered to fishermen for returning unwanted nets.

Incentivise vessels to use technology to track and if necessary retrieve their lost nets.

Support research into biodegradable nets to speed up their development.

Mr Flack, who is leading the European Parliament’s Fisheries committee’s response to the EU’s plastic strategy, said:

“The EU must make tackling ghost fishing part of its new plastics strategy. The tragedy of ghost fishing must end.”

The public is invited to join the team for a presentation of the work of Ghost Fishing and a beach cleanup on Thursday, September 6. Those interested can follow Operation “Stone & Pots” on Facebook/ghostnetsIreland.

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