Environmental chief calls for curb on ghost gear

By Samisoni Pareti, Senior Editor, Islands Business, in New York

5 June, 2017, UN Ocean Conference, New York – Papua New Guinea leads the islands of the Pacific with the highest incidence of ghost gear dumping, according to an analysis of over 10,000 reports from fisheries observers conducted by the Pacific regional agency on the environment, SPREP.

The analysis of reports covered 12 years, and 44 per cent of all the reported incidents of marine pollution, ranging from waste dumping, oil spillage or leakage, and abandoned or lost fishing gear, were recorded in the waters of PNG, which has the highest concentration of purse seine fishing vessels in the Pacific islands region. Kiribati and the Federated States of Micronesia accounted for 13 and 12 per cent of cases respectively

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L-R: Mr Glen Joseph of RMI and Mr Kosi Latu of SPREP. Photo: SPREP

"For several years, every purse-seiner has been required to carry an observer and in 2015, SPREP undertook an analysis of over 10,000 GEN-6 reports of marine pollution provided by observers. The results were both surprising and shocking. Despite the presence of an observer, all manner of pollutants were knowingly discarded into the ocean, including plastics, oil and dumped fishing gear," SPREP Director-General Kosi Latu told a side-event on initiating global action against ghost gear at the inaugural UN Conference on Oceans that opened here today.

Ghost gear is described as discarded fishing or shipping gear that pose a major hazard to marine wildlife, as well as ship navigation. Latu says the International Whaling Commission estimated up to 300,000 whales and dolphins die from entanglement in active fishing gear each year.

"We cannot say whether the crews who heedlessly disposed of hazardous wastes at sea were simply ignorant of their responsibilities or whether they were blatantly flouting the regulations. And the information I have just presented is probably the tip of the iceberg. There are ten times as many long-liners in our region as there are purse seiners, and only 5% of them, at best, carry observers.
 
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Mr Kosi Latu presenting at today's event in New York. Photo: SPREP

"There may not be any silver bullets to fix the problem of marine debris and ghost gear, but there are several things that can and should be done. SPREP is a proud member of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative. We look forward to working closely with FAO, our colleagues in the region, and our co-sponsors. Between us, I believe that we can make some real progress over the next few years."

Solutions proposed by the SPREP DG include improving on-board practices, better management in the use of fish aggregating devices (FADs), improving port state facilities for rubbish disposal and imposition of fines. – S.Pareti/SPREP
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