Ocean conservation charity Ghost Fishing UK has netted the ‘Best Plastic Campaign’ prize at the Plastic Free Awards 2021, for its voluntary work removing abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear from the UK’s waters.
The Plastic Free Awards, now in its second year, celebrates the achievements of the campaigners, innovators, small businesses and communities leading the charge on plastic pollution across the UK. Partnered with Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation, the awards are separated into twelve categories including Best Plastic Campaign and Youth Activist Award, for which anybody – individual, school, community, or business – can be nominated.
It is estimated that 640,000 tonnes of lost fishing gear or ‘ghost gear’ is lost into our oceans each year. Modern fishing gear is primarily made of plastics and not only continues catching and killing wildlife once it has been lost, but leaves a legacy issue of broken-down plastic circulating in our oceans. These fragments known as microplastics can be ingested by animals and ultimately end up in our food chain.
Volunteer divers from Ghost Fishing UK are carefully selected to survey and recover lost fishing gear which is reported through the charity’s website. Both divers and fishermen are invited to report fishing gear losses so that the team can recover the equipment and stopping the cycle of death and pollution the ghost gear leaves behind. The recovered materials are stored and eventually recycled into a variety of eco-friendly items.
Fred Nunn, Ghost Fishing UK’s Operations Officer and one of its Cornwall-based trustees, said: ‘It’s so humbling to be recognised by the community when there are so, so many others all doing truly amazing things all towards a common goal. Scuba divers who make the grade are put through an intensive training course over three days to prepare them for dealing with ghost nets. The job underwater can be dangerous, often with poor visibility, hard physical work and the ever-present risk of the divers becoming entangled in the nets themselves.’
Some of GFUK’s divers were unable to attend the event as it clashed with a project to remove a huge net from the wreck of the Cairndhu, a First World War armed merchant vessel torpedoed off the coast of Brighton, UK, in 1917. The team was aided in its efforts by a passing fishing vessel, the captain of which offered to help and haul the net on board, where it hoped the crew will be able to repair and re-use the net, or send it to be recycled if not.
‘Today was a fantastic day! It was brilliant to have a trawling vessel offer assistance to our mission to get the net off the Cairndhu but to go on and win this award in the evening was the cherry on the cake,’ said GFUK trustee, Christine Grosart, who was watching the awards from a dive boat in the middle of the Danish North Sea. ‘Many people think we do this for a living but we don’t – we all have day jobs, families and normal lives to work around. It takes special individuals to give up what free time and cash they have spare to this cause and that is why they are so deserving of this award.’
‘To actually win this award means more to me than you can imagine,’ said GFUK Chair, Dr Richard Walker. ‘It means that I can publicly thank all of our dedicated volunteers, who scuba dive to recover lost fishing nets from the reefs and shipwrecks around the United Kingdom and the huge contribution that our divers make in keeping the projects happening. I can praise our instructors who teach our divers how to be safe and effective on our projects and show my appreciation to our committee who look after our administration, who send our message to the public, who make links with the fishing community and other groups.’
Sightings of abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear can be reported by diving and non-diving members of the public on the Ghost Fishing UK’s website at www.ghostfishing.co.uk/report. The charity has also stated that it is keen to work in harmony with the fishing community to address the problem of ghost gear, and has recently rolled out a new reporting system for fishers and fishing vessels to report lost gear anonymously, using the Ghost Fishing UK – Fishing Community Reporting Form.