The Problem of Driftnets
Driftnets are mostly synthetic mesh gill nets that are designed to be released into the Ocean by fishermen to float on the surface of the water and reach up to 100 m below the surface catching fish who swim through the net. The net can also span more than 100 m long. Fish and mammals have trouble seeing the net as the synthetic fiber is invisible in the water.
Driftnets are designed to catch schools of fish. The fishermen will set the nets and will come back a day later to remove the targeted species caught in the net. The non-target species (i.e. bycatch) are removed from the net and discarded over the side where they are either dead, or will die from their injuries sustained from the net. Some bycatch species include: whales, dolphins, seals, sea turtles, seabirds, and fish. The driftnets may not kill animals immediately; however, for air-breathing mammals such as whales, dolphins, and seals, death by drowning is often the case.
For more information in Driftnets check out this link: The History of the Driftnet.
Controlling the Use of Driftnets
The Fisheries and Agriculture Organization added an international moratorium on the use of driftnets although individual countries are responsible for regulating the use of driftnets within 200 Nautical Miles of their coasts. Many countries have banned the use of driftnetting; however, illegal use of driftnets are common all over the world. Unfortunately, it is difficult to enforce the ban on driftnets in the Ocean because the authorities cannot be everywhere all of the time and enforcement methods and policies for the Oceans are still being tested to determine which are most effective.
Is Legislation Enough to Stop Driftnetting
Is Stopping Driftnetting Hopeless?
As I created this piece for my fellow Ocean Leaders, I thought to myself as to how to present ways that we can help stop the use of driftnets around the world to protect fish, mammals, sea turtles, and seabirds and, of course, the Ocean. It was even difficult for me to think of ways where we can actually show a change. But after a bit of research and some not so creative thinking, I think I figured it out.
4 ways that we can help protect the Ocean by stopping driftnet use:
1) Make Better Seafood Decisions – Can you imagine that you have the power to chose how fish are caught? So, the question remains, how do we figure out how fish are caught? Well, there is a great program out of the Monterey Bay Aquarium called SeaFood Watch. The program produces a guide to inform consumers on how they could choose more sustainable seafood. The program comes in a paper guide and/or a smartphone app for iPhone and Android, which I find easier to use in a restaurant and/or a grocery store. The guide provides information on each popular seafood species, their ecology, whether they are considered to be overfished, the type of gear used to catch the seafood, and whether you should order it or avoid it. If the guide tells you to avoid it, it will provide the proper alternatives based on similar tastes or texture and its sustainability.
2) Ensure Your Government is Enforcing the Banning of Driftnets – Just because your country bans driftnet use, doesn’t mean the law is being enforced. You can work with your government to 1) find out how many people are charged with driftnet use; and, 2) advocate for stricter punishments for use of driftnets. You can also volunteer with organizations like WWF and Oceana to help them advocate against the use of driftnets. The point is, we Ocean Leaders need to make sure people within the regulatory agencies know that you want stricter punishments for people breaking the law;
3) Help Create Protected Areas that ban fishing in critically important areas – Marine Protected Areas are designed to keep harmful human activities within critical Ocean habitats such as fish spawning areas and/or nursery areas. An MPA designation would mean the governments could enforce more effectively within a smaller area; and,
4) Clean Up Underwater Ghost Nets – Many, many driftnets are lost at sea and remain in the Ocean water column over time where marine species get themselves entangled in the nets. Now that the nets are made out of synthetic material, they do not biodegrade making them an underwater killer for eternity. Some nets wash up on shore; however, most nets remain on the Ocean bottom or in the water column, so it is crucial that we remove this killer debris from the Ocean to save marine species.
The 4 above actions will make a difference when more than one person stands up to not only Speak Up For Blue, but Act For Blue! It is time that we tell governments around the world that we care about our Oceans and that we need to use more sensible management and methods to catch fish for food.