The International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF) are delighted to have been recently announced as the first ever recipients of World Animal Protection’s ‘Joanna Toole Ghost Gear Solutions Award’. This award has enabled the organisation to launch a new initiative: The Ghost Net Retrieval Project in the Maldives. In partnership with the Olive Ridley Project, this project is aimed at incentivising Maldivian fishers to collect ghost nets they encounter during their fishing operations. As a result, the Maldivian fishing industry is primed to remove foreign ghost nets at-sea. At the moment, the project is ready to be piloted by the local one-by-one tuna catching sector working off Gemanafushi Island, in the southern region of the Maldives.
A staggering 640,000 tonnes of fishing gear is estimated to be lost or abandoned in the world’s seas annually. Much of this so-called “ghost gear” is made of synthetic materials, and once lost is left floating or suspended in ocean currents over the course of many years. In the Maldives, facilitating the removal of ghost nets has become an essential action due to the rapidly accumulating volumes of fishing nets that are drifting into the nation’s waters after being abandoned, lost or discarded from elsewhere in the Indian Ocean, causing destruction to fragile local marine habitats and megafauna.
To tackle this important issue in the Maldives, IPNLF is teaming up with the Olive Ridley Project who bring a wealth of experience to the project in terms of the removal of ghost gear in the Maldives, having already removed 1,340 nets from inshore areas since 2015. IPNLF aims to utilise its close relationship with one-by-one tuna fisheries together with the Olive Ridley Project’s past experience, building upon the ghost net removal work that has already been achieved by initiating ghost net collection out at sea. Through successful at-sea net collection efforts, the ghost fishing cycle of nets will be drastically curtailed in comparison to collecting beached nets, thus increasing the likelihood of survival of entangled Olive Ridley turtles and other affected animals that are listed as Endangered, Threatened, and Protected.
With encountered nets often weighing upwards of 80kg, the fishers in the programme will be reclaiming fishing gear that is potentially more than 4000 times the weight of the fishing lines being used in the Maldives. Taking into consideration the loss rates and the weight of gear used by pole-and-line vessels in the Maldives, it would take approximately 1000 fishing trips for enough fishing lines to be lost to equate to the weight of just one of the larger ghost nets typically encountered by fishers. Therefore, through retrieving these abandoned fishing nets, the Maldives one-by-one fishery aims to become the world's first fishery to evidence that it removes more ghost gear by weight from the ocean than is lost through its own fishing operations.
With these ambitions in mind, IPNLF wasted no time in launching the project on the ground, conducting the first outreach trip to the pilot site of Gemanafushi during the final week of February 2020. This meeting involved officially introducing the project to all stakeholders, discussing the logistics of ghost net collection/storage and finally outlining the need for a circular economy distribution system to repurpose the collected nets locally. These initial meetings were extremely successful with all affiliated fishers agreeing to the ghost net collection protocol and safety measures developed by project manager Zacari Edwards, and the local Women’s Development Committee declaring an interest in coordinating the circular economy distribution system.
Perhaps most crucially the Island Council also agreed to provide their full support in helping to arrange the transportation of nets landed on the island and to identify an appropriate storage facility for collected ghost nets. This approach would also see the integration of the pre-existing local waste management system run by the council with logistical aspects of the project, with workers in the sector collecting and transporting nets landed by fishers from the port to the storage facility. As a result of all the important progress made during this scoping trip, IPNLF now anticipate that the first ghost nets will be landed by fishers as a result of the project in April 2020!
Speaking on the impact of the award, IPNLF Socio Economic Manager and co-coordinator of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative’s Building Evidence Working Group, Zacari Edwards, says, “The Joanna Toole Ghost Gear Solutions Award Grant has been critical in providing both the impetus and enabling conditions for Maldivian fishers to tackle the issue of foreign ghost nets themselves. We are ambitious that there is a high potential for the approach of this project to be replicated and introduced in many other fisheries throughout the world. Therefore we are also hopeful that this project can evidence a replicable model for how the industry can demonstrate they are having a positive impact on the amount of ghost gear entering the ocean, hopefully moving the sector away from pledges and commitments that are difficult to verify toward more tangible actions”.