Sea Change in Rome: UN Support a Critical Step towards Ending the Threat of Ghost Gear

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The marking of fishing gear is a crucial step in eradicating ghost gear.

According to estimates, ghost gear, which is lost or abandoned fishing equipment, is found in the ocean for every 125 tons of fish caught. It becomes a floating death trap and a danger to marine animals such as turtles and whales.

Recently, I blogged about the work we did to push for action at the highest level of the United Nations (UN) on ghost gear. This work was continued last week as we attended the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN’s biennial Committee on Fisheries, (COFI), meeting in Rome.

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Sea life: Standing up

COFI is the only international inter-governmental forum that examines major international aquaculture and fisheries issues. It also makes recommendations and negotiates global agreements between countries. It is vital that World Animal Protection has a voice at COFI. This is a great opportunity to reach decision-makers who can make an impact at a global level.

Many other issues were raised at the meeting and all were vying to be addressed. It was a difficult task to make sure governments understood the gravity of the ghost gear threat, and how they could help prevent it.

The Sea Change campaign team has been working hard to prepare for this meeting for many years. Our work actually began in 2014 when we attended the last meeting. We were able to persuade a large number of governments to express concern over the ghost gear issue.

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International guidelines for marking fishing gear

The FAO met with a group international experts, including World Animal Protection, to discuss and devise best practices for marking fishing gear.

It may seem simple to mark fishing gear to identify the owner and location, but it is vital. This will allow the owner of fishing equipment to be identified, regardless of its location, and can help to pinpoint problems. It will allow fishermen to retrieve lost gear, discourage them from abandoning it intentionally, and help identify illegal fishing practices.

The marking of fishing equipment will ultimately reduce the amount ghost gear in the oceans and protect sea animals against ghost gear-induced injury and suffering.

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As rescuers save sea animals, we can support them

Thanks to our partnership with the International Whaling Commission’s Whale Entanglement Response Network I have been a part of many frustrated discussions amongst whale rescuers. Many tell stories of the hours spent trying to free individual whales from their fishing gear and the horrific injuries they often sustain even after disentanglement. They can’t even identify the source of the fishing equipment, so they can’t do anything to stop the next whale from suffering or death.

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This problem could be solved by a universal system to mark fishing gear.

We are pleased that the governments have supported the development of International Guidelines for the Marking of Fishing Gear. The FAO, with the support of COFI will now bring together governments as well as other organizations to refine the guidelines for international use. We expect that the guidelines will be finalized and supported by governments at the 2018 COFI meeting.

World Animal Protection understands that such decisions may sound extreme in comparison to the horrific reality of animal suffering. This is an important decision we believe will save millions of fish, whales, turtles and seals in the years ahead.

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