One Scottish trawlerman is so incensed by the dumping of nets he’s come to me – a longstanding critic of his industry – with evidence
How could they be so careless? How do fishing vessels lose so many of their nets and longlines that this “ghost gear”, drifting through the oceans, now presents a mortal threat to whales, dolphins, turtles and much of the rest of the life of the sea? After all, fishing gear is expensive. It is either firmly attached to the vessel or, using modern technologies, easily located.
I’ve asked myself these questions for a while, and I think I now have an answer. It comes from an unlikely source: a trawlerman working in Scotland. I’m not a fan of trawling, but I recognise that some operations are more damaging than others. He and his colleagues now appear to be pulling in more nets than fish. On trip after trip they catch vast hauls of ghost gillnets and longlines, often wrapped around marine animals. He has sent me his photos, which are so disturbing I can scarcely bear to look: drowned seabirds, decapitated seals and fish and crustaceans of many species, which died a long, slow death. Where are these nets and lines coming from? He believes they’re being deliberately discarded.
I have checked his identity, but he wants to remain anonymous. Like other local trawlers, his boat brings its waste to land. The problem, he says, lies with large vessels, many from France and Spain, that spend four to six weeks at a time at sea. They don’t have enough storage space for the rubbish they generate: most of the hold is dedicated to frozen fish. Worn-out gillnets and longlines should be returned to port for disposal. But those he retrieves have a revealing characteristic: the expensive parts, those that can be reused – floats, weights and hooks – have been cut off. This, he believes, is a giveaway: if you find a net or line like that, it has been deliberately thrown overboard.
George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist
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