Ghost fishing occurs when a driftnet breaks loose on its own
and is free to sail the ocean. Sometimes, however, a net is cut
loose by frustrated fishermen if it becomes tangled while being
drawn in. When a net is free-floating like this it is moved by
winds and currents all over the ocean. It becomes an invisible
wall of death, killing whatever it touches. It will continue
to do this until the weight of the creatures it has ensnared
finally drags it to the bottom.
It's estimated that 1,000 km of ghost net is left in the ocean
for every driftnet fleet. If this continues, by the year 2000
there will be enough ghost net in the ocean to stretch 1/3 of
the way around the earth.
By-catch is the term given to the many things that are caught
in the nets that are not wanted for marketing. This is a very
serious problem. In 1989, one driftnet fleet out after squid
in the Mediterranean caught 58 blue sharks, 914 dolphins, 52
fur seals, 35 puffins and 22 marine turtles alone. It is estimated
that 3,000 to10,000 dolphins are caught each year along with
over 80 other different kinds of species of marine life. Numbers
like these are never precise because most driftneting is done
in the open ocean where it is impossible to monitor and count
the number of fish brought in.
Drop-out occurs while the net is being brought in. The decaying
remains of fish and other marine animals that have died on the
net fall off and are lost to the ocean. This is a terrible waste
because not only does the by-catch fall off, but the fish that
the net was put out for falls as well. This makes driftneting
a very non-productive way of fishing and a waste of time and
It is clear that driftnets are a world-wide problem and many
people and groups believe that they should be banned forever.
In 1989, the United Nations put a moratorium on large scale,
high seas driftnets and the South Pacific forum issued the Tarawa
Declaration. This called for an end to all driftnet fishing in
the forum area. Also, at this time, the European Union would
not allow fishermen to use driftnets that are over 2.5 km long.
But these laws were impossible to enforce and regulate by
local law enforcement and the United Nations and were often ignored
by fishermen in the open ocean. In one week alone, Greenpeace
found 14 illegal driftnets in the Mediterranean, many of these
were over 8 km in length.
Greenpeace has campaigned for 15 years against the "walls
of death" and has recently scored a victory. On June 8,
1998 in Luxembourg, Greenpeace called for a European Union agreement
to ban the use of all driftnets over 2.5 km in length. This agreement
will phase out all E.U. driftnet fishing by the year 2001.
With the numbers of animals getting caught in driftnets all
over the world and the ecological problems they are causing,
many wonder why a worldwide ban on all driftnet fishing has not
been agreed on. Many people think that this should be done and
are waiting for this day.