Creating a Sea Change in Hawaii

Lost and discarded commercial fishing gear (also known as “ghost gear”) is one of the biggest threats to our sea life. A staggering 640,000 tons is left in our oceans each year, trapping and killing hundreds of thousands of animals.

Our work to protect marine animals from injury and death caused by lost and abandoned fishing gear involves working closely with local partners to tackle the problem. We are creating a sea change by reduction (volume of lost or discarded fishing gear), removal (of ghost fishing gear in our oceans), and rescue (of animals already entangled). 

Removing ghost fishing gear in Hawaii

In August 2014, World Animal Protection joined the Hawaii Wildlife Fund (HWF) to undertake a 10-mile coastline survey along the Hawaiian shore and remove discarded fishing gear that had been swept to shore following Tropical Storm Iselle – the first hurricane to hit the Island in 50 years. 

Driving over volcanic rock (there are no roads) the team made its way to Kamilo Point, an area known for nets being washed up to shore. The storm had washed up a mountain of debris which had rooted itself into rocks, in trees and in the coastal vegetation. A tug at one small piece of line would often reveal a much larger piece of line. 

The team spent a challenging day collecting as many nets as they could. When wet and filled with sand, fishing gear is extremely heavy. In some instances, it was simply too dangerous to retrieve gear that was high up on jagged rocks. Once the truck was full, the team pushed back the remaining fishing as far back from the shore so that it would not re-enter the water.

Altogether, they managed to remove around 100 pounds of nets, in addition to another 129 pounds of miscellaneous plastic – with another 200 pounds to be safely hauled away when the truck would later return with heavier machinery. The impact of this type of work can be seen by the decreasing amount of debris found along the shore.

Fewer discarded nets and lines means less chance of an animal becoming injured or killed. 

A global solution 

The ghost gear that was collected that day by the team was identified as coming from Alaskan and Asian waters, but from which fisheries remains unknown. A prime example of why this is global problem that requires a global solution. The critical importance of ghost fishing gear and marine animal entanglement was recognized at the first International Whaling Commission (IWC) workshop on Mitigation of Marine Debris held on 5-7 August 2014.

Through our Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI), World Animal Protection is leading the way in coordinating global efforts to bring together governments, marine organizations, fisheries, businesses and communities so that we can move towards a future of ghost-free seas. Part of this work includes funding whale rescue workshops in South Pacific, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Tonga, teaching stranding networks and governments to safely disentangle whales trapped in fishing gear.

We’re also partnering with with GhostNets Australia and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to develop a fishing gear identification database, with a standardised method of recording ghost gear, which can be used globally. By identifying the type of gear that is frequently lost and causing the most entanglements, we can pinpoint the types of fisheries that use them. We will then focus our efforts on working directly with these fisheries and with the manufacturers that produce the gear to improve design and prevent future entanglement of marine animals.

Elizabeth Hogan, U.S. Oceans and Wildlife Campaigns Manager for World Animal Protection, was part of gear removal team. She said, “Seeing the number of nets brought to shore by Tropical Storm Iselle really highlighted the vast scale of the problem. The nets we collected did not originate from Hawaiian fisheries, but from waters as far away as Asia, demonstrating that the problem of ghost fishing gear is one that must be tackled at a global level as well as locally.

The impact on marine animals and communities is often felt miles away from where fishing gear is discarded. By creating an alliance of governments, industry and NGO partners, we can coordinate global efforts to stop fishing gear from being abandoned.”

The Hawaii Wildlife Fund is also dedicated to educating the next generation on the importance of taking care of our oceans.

Through ongoing school visits, they spread the message that our oceans, and its marine life, are a precious resource, and not a dumping ground for human waste. 

We're helping fund this vital education work. By providing children and young people with an understanding of animal welfare, we can enable them to have a compassionate and respectful attitude towards to animals.