Problems to marine life:
- Marine life is disturbed by many problems.
- The consequences of overfishing, using nets of the smallest mesh size, illegal fishing etc. are highly worrying.
- Entire fishing communities are affected by these actions, especially in developing countries like India where the demand for fish keeps rising.
- Among the problems, the effects of ghost nets are evident and highly visible.
Ghost gear in the oceans:
- ‘Ghost gear’ – any fishing equipment that has been lost, discarded or abandoned in water bodies – is one of the biggest threats to animals in our oceans.
- The problem of ghost gear has grown from a fishing fallout that people had not heard of to one that is now difficult to ignore.
Consequences of such ghost gear:
- The consequences of marine debris are many.
- Between 2011 and 2018 alone, the Olive Ridley charity recorded 601 sea turtles being entangled in ghost gear near the Maldives, of which 528 were Olive Ridleys.
- Other casualties worldwide include whales, dolphins, sharks and even pelagic birds.
- In 2016, research by a team of marine biologists from across the world found that over 5,400 marine animals belonging to 40 different species were recorded as entangled in ghost gear, or associated with it.
They travel far, with negative impact:
- Ghost nets are often ‘ghost fishers’.
- Ocean currents carry them for thousands of km across the ocean floor, ensnaring, injuring and drowning marine life and damaging live corals along the way.
- Discarded Indian and Thai fishing nets, for instance, have been fished out of Maldivian coasts.
Regular efforts at retrieving ghost gear from Indian Ocean:
- In March 2018, fishermen hauled 400 kg of fishing nets out of the sea in a few locations off Kerala’s south coast.
- There are many such reports of divers regularly making underwater trips just to extract nets that have sunk to the ocean floor off India’s coasts, ranging from Tamil Nadu to Maharashtra.
But need better data on ghost gear:
- The study by the marine biologists also showed a huge gap in data from the Indian, Southern and Arctic Oceans. The team recommended that future studies focus on these areas.
- Yet, two years later, there are still no data pertaining to the extent of prevalence of ghost gear off India’s coast.
- Scientists at Kochi’s Indian Council of Agricultural Research-Central Institute of Fisheries Technology studied ghost nets in Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
- However, the results of the report, which were submitted to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN earlier this year, have not been released yet.
- Data is crucial as the detrimental effects of these nets also spillover into other countries and oceans.
National ghost net management policy:
- According to scientists, the government is also currently preparing a national ghost net management policy.
- That would be an extremely welcome and timely move to tackle the growing ghost gear phenomenon.
Innovative solutions to tackle the problem:
- There are numerous innovative solutions to tackle ghost gear, if we can learn from projects across the world.
- Recycling: In countries like Canada and Thailand, fishermen retain their used nets; these are recycled into yarn to craft socks and even carpet tiles.
- Gear-marking programme: For the first time in a developing country, a gear-marking programme is being tested in Indonesia so that the trajectory of gear, if it drifts away, can be studied better.
- Outreach and education: Outreach and education among fishing communities would be crucial along with policy-level changes.
- Paving roads: In one instance in India, ghost nets hauled from Kerala’s Kollam have been used to pave roads.
- The innovative solutions show that transformation is possible.
- However, more efforts to make the process more organised across the over 7,500 km of India’s coasts, as well as inland water bodies, are the need of the hour.
GS Paper III: Environment