Award-winning charity Ghost Fishing UK has announced that a team of volunteer divers will be heading to Shetland in August for a week-long mission to help the islands’ fishing community clear the waters of huge, abandoned gill nets.
Ghost Fishing UK is conducting the operation in response to reports from Shetland’s fishermen, who have been protesting the finding of the gill nets, which are alleged to have been used, then dumped, by foreign vessels. The fishermen have been pulling in the abandoned gill nets – some of them filled with rocks to weight them down – with their own equipment, leaving themselves faced with the difficulties and costs of disposing of the illegally dumped nets.
Concerned about the environmental impact of unmonitored landings, discarded gill nets and an increase in harm to wildlife and unintended bycatch, the fishermen contacted Ghost Fishing UK trustee, Christine Grosart, to ask for assistance.
‘I was shocked to receive some pretty harrowing images of enormous gill nets, dumped at sea, full of life including birds,’ said Grosart. ‘We have a good track record of working in Orkney so figured Shetland should not be a problem for our team.’
Ghost Fishing UK has been operating since 2015, training volunteers from around the UK to recover abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear, and recycle it wherever possible. The charity works with, not against, the fishing community to tackle the problem, which has helped change the landscape of ocean conservation in the UK.
‘Since we won the Fishing News Awards a couple of years ago, attitudes have slowly been changing,’ said Grosart. ‘It is no longer “us and them” when it comes to divers, conservationists and fishermen. We all want the same thing; a healthy, thriving ocean.
‘These large gill nets are unfair, completely unmonitored and not only impact our fish stocks for our own fishery, but are causing havoc with our wildlife. Our fishermen just don’t use them, so we are sure they are not native to our islands.’
Ghost Fishing UK will be in Shetland from 6 – 11 August aboard MV Valhalla, and is appealing for any information regarding ‘ghost gear’ known to be in the 35m depth range. The charity is also seeking volunteers in Shetland to help with sorting and cleaning the recovered ghost gear ready for recycling back on the mainland. Any useable gear such as creels will be given to the fishermen.
Arlene Robertson from the campaign group Fishing Forward, said: ‘We are appalled at what is going on around Shetland/UK waters. We contacted and welcomed Ghost Fishing UK to Shetland to help highlight the truth.
‘Shetland fishermen have been gathering photographic evidence of the tons of deliberately discarded fishing gear and domestic waste from foreign-owned fishing boats which is desperately harmful for the environment and to wildlife.’
Ghost Fishing UK will be hosting a sold-out outreach evening on Thursday, 10 August at Shetland Museum, Lerwick. ‘It’s a full house,’ said Grosart. ‘We are thrilled that we are going to have a mix of public, fishermen, divers and conservationists all in one place, working towards the same thing. We are hosting talks from Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary, Fishing Forward UK and, of course, providing updates on the project ourselves.
‘It’s going to be a groundbreaking evening.’
Ghost Fishing UK has been crowdfunding to raise money to cover the cost of the boat and equipment and has almost met its £20,000 target. Several local companies have offered assistance to the charity, including Northlink Ferries and DFDS Haulage on Shetland.