DiveStyle Goes Ghost Fishing UK

What is Ghost Fishing?

‘Ghost Fishing’ is what fishing gear does when it has been lost, dumped or abandoned. Nets, long lines, fish traps or any man made contraptions designed to catch fish or marine organisms are considered capable of ghost fishing when unattended, and without anyone profiting from the catches, they are affecting already depleted commercial fish stocks. Caught fish die and in turn attract scavengers which will get caught in that same net, thus creating a vicious circle.

Lost fishing gear, or so called ‘ghost gear’ are among the greatest killers in our oceans, and not only because of their numbers. Literally hundreds of kilometers of nets and lines get lost every year and due to the nature of the materials used to produce these types of gear, they can and will keep fishing for multiple decades, possibly even for several centuries.

To try and put some scale to the whole problem, it is reported that there is 640,000 tonnes of

So who is Ghost Fishing UK?

Ghost Fishing UK was initiated in 2015 at an inaugural project in Scapa Flow. The international Ghost Fishing project sent 6 delegates from the Netherlands to assist the projects inception. Six UK based divers also joined the team and these divers formed the core of new UK team. During this project, over 65 lost creels and pots were recovered, along with 1000 kg of fishing net and over a kilometer of ropes. This material was recycled into clothing, refurbished pots and creels, and the ropes were made into decorative doormats. Very little recovered gear was sent to landfill. The project also started a cooperative effort between Ghost Fishing and Heriot Watt University, particularly Dr. Joanne Porter. Dr. Porter surveyed the marine life present in the pots, creels and ropes. These data now form part of an ongoing research project in Scapa Flow.

Over the winter, Rich Walker, one of the divers on the 2015 project, gave a series of talks and meetings around the country and identified a group of UK divers that were keen to engage in the Ghost Fishing mission. These divers were invited to come to Scapa Flow in 2016. Bob Anderson of MV Halton supported the project, and World Animal Protection donated a significant portion of the funding. The divers were taught how to survey and recover ghost fishing gear and also how to perform simple marine life assessments. Representatives from Cornwall, Bristol and Norfolk joined the project, along with the existing team from 2015.

What impact does Ghost Fishing have on our marine environment?

Writing a section on how much ghost fishing impacts our seas really does not convey the absolute devastation that has been happening for years, so here are just a few photographs to give you a visual representation of how much damage and carnage is inflicted.

Time to go and experience this all for myself

Having read all the information provide through the Ghost Fishing website I decided to go get involved in a Ghost Fishing UK event, a go and see what it is all about type thing.

I elected to join Ghost Fishing UK on one of their ‘get to know us’ events, being held at NDAC on the 5th and 6th January.

“Join the Ghost Fishing UK team for a weekend of diving and socials.

Included with your ticket:

  • Saturday Social: Hog Roast & BBQ (Vegetarian options available)
  • Guest Speakers, Q&A Forum
  • Half Price Diving entry to NDAC (£9 per diver per day)
  • Video screenings
  • Bar, raffle, auction, competitions and fundraisers.
  • ‘Try Ghost Fishing’ workshops”

And all this for just £25, with all profits going to Ghost Fishing.

An easy process, all done through Eventbrite and backed up by numerous emails from Christine.

Time to get busy

Before I knew it, the weekend of the event was upon me, so time to get packing and make my way to Chepstow.

06:30 – Time to get up and start my journey from Milton Keynes to Chepstow!

08:15 – Arriving at NDAC the carpark was already buzzing!

The Ghost Fishing team had already been at NDAC since the Friday morning preparing the stand and in water stations that would be used over the weekend.

08:20 – cup of tea

08:30 – cup of tea

08:45 – cup of tea

08:55 – toilet stop, too much tea!

09:00 – Twinset dropped into the filling station for the 32% fill needed for the course and then off for a cup of tea in the fantastic cafe.

10:00 – Briefing time!

As we all sat down for the briefing in the marquee, it struck me on how well attended the event was. There must have been some 70-80 divers for the Saturday sessions alone.

Christine Grosart, the event organiser, took to the mic to give us the rundown of the days events and why we would be split into two groups, AM and PM divers.

Each group would have an instructor assigned plus two event attendee’s. The day was to be packed with the Ghost Fishing dive, matt making by Skype, presentations on marine issues and kit fettling sessions for those that needed that little bit of extra help or just had questions.

They also covered the in water stations that had been created. We would be attending four stations:

  • Line cutting
  • Surveying
  • Lifting demonstration
  • Debrief

A safety brief was given on each station, especially about the use of the extremely sharp knives that were going to be used that day, and they were sharp!

With the safety brief given we moved onto survey techniques and survey information gathering. It is amazing just how much information you can gather about a ghost fishing hazard and the more information you do collect in that survey, the better planning that can be done to retrieve that fishing gear.

Briefing done it was time for the AM divers to get ready.

I had been assigned into the PM group, which was good and bad. Good in that I could relax, have a cuppa and chill, bad as it did mean a bit of a wait around, although there were activities to keep me busy if I wanted to attend or join in, I have to say, I chose the latter, a cup of tea and a snooze!

14:00 – meeting at main tent and then over to the kit benches to review gas analysing, cylinder marking and review why this is so important and how it relates to the approach that Ghost Fishing takes when dive planning for surveys and recovery.

14:30 – let’s go diving!

15:00 – after another quick water side briefing going over the in water tasks we were off!

The visibility at Chepstow was perfect for the tasks ahead.

Station One

Our first station was line cutting. Here the instructor handed over a very large and sharp knife to us and gave us the task of taking samples from all the different types fo rope, string and netting that had  been attached to the training station. Once cut, you dive buddy would then bag the bits, which was easier said than done.

It was here that you found out how sharp the knives really were. The knives being used would cut just about any of the rope presented at the first station without any hesitation.

I am pretty sure that if you slipped you would take of an arm or leg without much fuss, and only know that you had done because your drysuit would start flooding as your limb gentle floated away from you.

Once I had given everything a good slicing it was time to hand over to my dive buddy for the day so they could have a go. My buddy for the dive was Sue, or as I now call her Sue the blade.

As soon as Sue got hold of the knife she went to work on the rope with such enthusiasm that everyone around her instantly managed to master the art of back finning.

Station Two

The second station was the survey station. Here we had a large piece of net snagged causing an obstruction and catching marine life. in this case it was a-lot of laminated pictures of marine life (no marine animals were hurt in this event) all attached to the net to give you an idea of what you may come across.

Now, this all sounds very easy, but, when you start to task load some of the basics can go a little, well shall we say, a little array!

Many divers look good in the water until the multi tasking came in, then it was not so quite as good. Now this was not a ‘how good are you as a diver’ event but it did show many of the divers that a certain skill level has to be achieved if you were to get involved with Ghost Fishing and why that certain level of skill is a must.

What these guys do is dangerous work and requires divers at a certain skill level so that they do not injure themselves or their dive buddies.

So using our wet notes we started our master pieces on the fishing gear presented to us as station 2. Once we felt the survey was complete, we then use our newly found cutting skills and remove a sample of the net.

Underwater as I was drawing my diagram, taking notes etc, it looked an absolute master piece. I have to admit I was quite impressed with myself and felt quite pleased with the result. So wet notes stowed we moved towards station three.

With trepidation I handed the knife over to Sue the blade, this time managing to retreat a safe distance before the blade of fury was unleashed.

Within an instance Sue had all the plastic fish and marine life cut free from the net and had removed some of the weights holding the net in place. Not quite what Christine expected but you could not fault Sue’s enthusiasm!

Some 15 minutes later when Christine had repaired the station for the next group, she wrestled the knife from Sue and we then made our way over to station three.

Station Three

Station three was all about lifting. So once we had done an effective survey, cut the line, net or pots free it was time to lift it all to the surface.

As the event was open to all agencies and all abilities, the lifting station was an instructor led demonstration. Given the vast range of abilities attending the event I think this was a wise decision and the safest decision.

Even though the station was only at 6 meters, the last thing needed was for someone not familiar or training is using a lift bag to be dragged to the surface with their lungs coming out of their nose!

We finned into station three, took up our positions so we could see what was about to happen and watched Christine do a perfect lift demonstration on a pesky lobster pot.

Christine gently added air to the lift bag, never rushing, until the lift bag was neutrally buoyant. Once this had been achieved a good check was done on the surrounding area to make sure that there was no potential of getting snagged by any loose rope etc. once she was confident that all was in order and there was no obvious possibility of entanglement, she gently added some more air to the lift bag until it started to slowly rise. As soon as it did start to rise, Christine moved back a safe distance and let physics do the rest. All very impressive.

Demonstration over it was time to head back to shore. We practice ascending as a team, making sure we were all in reaching distance of each other, another skill that Ghost Fishing UK wants you to embrace and a skill work working towards.

Station Four

Back on the surface we bobbed in the water and had an informal chat of how we felt the session had gone. We discussed each station and the how we think we did, how we actually did and how we could have tackled it in a slightly different way to make things a bit easier.

Then it was time to get out of the water as it was getting a bit chilli!

Sat on the pontoons I was keen to show the Leonardo type sketch I had taken of the net, so out came the wet notes. It was at this point that I had discovered that I must have put back someone else’s wet notes into my pocket. The diagram that I had in front of me had clearly been drawn by a silver back gorilla using crayons, not the fine, almost professional sketch that I had done underwater!

End of the day

All in all I thought the event had been a real success. Well planned as a taster to what the Ghost Fishing UK is all about.

There was plenty to do between the in water activities. It was well run but relaxed and enjoyable at the same time. Everyone on the Ghost Fishing UK team were extremely friendly, did not care about what agency you had learned to dive with, so a nice breath of fresh air on that front.

The evening buffet was fantastic and very generous, I don’t think I saw anyone manage to each the beast of a pull pork roll that was provided.

Once everyone had been fed then we went onto some great talks by Fourth Element, Seasearch and Mae Dorricott.

At the end of the evening the raffle was drawn and there were a lot of very happy people with some fabulous prizes.

There has to be a mention to NDAC in Chepstow. NDAC as always were there to sort out all your diving needs and drinks and food needed throughout the day. The site keeps getting better each time I visit and the shower in the changing rooms is a great facility when you are not staying overnight.

So would I recommend going to a Ghost Fishing UK event?

YES

I has a great time, met some great people and come away with a brilliant insight into the Ghost Fishing initiative.

 

 

Author: John Campbell
Photos: Photo credit to the Ghost Fishing Organisation (UK, Greece, Lebanon), Definitive Imaging

 

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