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Almost 30 per cent of fishing lines are estimated to be lost at sea each year

The first global estimate of the amount of fishing gear lost in oceans worldwide has revealed that 29 per cent of all lines are lost or discarded each year in the sea.

Using data from 68 studies published between 1975 and 2017, researchers also found that an estimated 6 per cent of all fishing nets and 9 per cent of all traps are lost in oceans annually.

The study, published by CSIRO, found that reporting of commercial fishing gear lost at sea has increased through time.

This is most likely due to improved reporting procedures and increases in the number of studies on gear loss across geographic areas and fisheries, according to the study.

Kelsey Richardson, a PhD student from CSIRO’s Marine Debris Team, who led the study, said the type of fishing gear used, along with how and where it is used, can all influence gear loss by fishers.

“We found that bad weather, gear becoming ensnared on the seafloor, and gear interfering with other gear types are the most common reasons for commercial fishing gear being lost.”

Fishing gear can take hundreds of years to breakdown, and it has significant consequences for marine life and habitats.

Dr Denise Hardesty, principal research scientist with CSIRO’s Oceans and Atmosphere, said when fishers lose gear at sea, they are not only adding to plastic pollution, but affecting their livelihoods.

“An estimated 40.3 million people are employed in fisheries globally and the costs of replacing gear can add up quickly.

“Reducing the amount that ends up in the oceans is good for industry, good for the environment, and good for global food security,” Hardesty said.

She said that these new global estimates on fishing gear losses fill a critical knowledge gap.

“By understanding where and why gear is lost, we can help target interventions to reduce fishing gear ending up in our oceans.”

Organisations determined to reduce the pollution in the world’s oceans are taking matters into their own hands with clean-up projects.

In June, The Ocean Cleanup company released a 600-metre long device in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii to catch plastic waste.

The Ocean Cleanup CEO, Boyan Slat, said the starting point for the clean-up was is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch as it is the largest accumulation zone of plastic in the world.

“Doing so is tricky because one – even though the patch contains north of 80 million kg of plastic, it is spread out over a massive area, three times the size of France or twice the size of Texas. And two – the patch is remote, making vessels extremely expensive to run.”

Projects undertaken by The Ocean Cleanup are ongoing.

On land, efforts to clean up rubbish that has washed up onshore are continuously underway with marine plastic pollution expert Dr Jennifer Lavers, known for her research on the matter, leading projects to tidy up beaches worldwide.

In September, Lavers helped research the Northeast Arnhem Land during a Sea Shepherd beach clean-up campaign where seven tonnes of rubbish were collected.

The campaign and surveys conducted of the area, concluded that there were an estimated 250 million pieces of marine debris present at the site.