Sunday, November 22, 2015

A clever and simple alternative to reduce ghost fishing in Brazil

People around the world appreciate the wonders and beauty of the ocean, be it from a distance, underwater or at the beach. But, no matter how often you go to the beach and the activity you practice, you have certainly seen evidence of one special threat faced by the seas: ghost fishing. If you follow our blog, you already heard about it here recently.

Ghost fishing is the catch of marine species by derelict fishing gear, which continues fishing long after it is thrown away, adding to fish mortality in a relatively unaccounted way. Abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) responds for about 10% of the marine debris that are released annually into the oceans worldwide. Crude estimates set the catch potential of ghost fishing as something between 0.5% and 30% of all market species that are officially landed in various European and North American fisheries.

Gears may be lost due to bad weather, strong currents, vandalism, human error, vessels collision and traffic. They may also be abandoned or intentionally discarded when the gear becomes snagged on submerged features, when there is malfunctioning or use of improper gear design and material, when it is risky to pull it off the sea, or simply to avoid blatant flagrant of illegal fishing. Nets are among the most common derelict gears found in the oceans. Old nets can either become additional trash at the beach or, when floating, keep erratically catching and killing individuals of many species. 

Pieces of fishing gear and floats usually found on the Brazilian beaches. Photo from
In Brazil there are no estimates of the impacts of ghost fishing, despite the fact that derelict gears are easily found on the beaches of the 7,491 km of the country’s coastline. This problem has bothered researchers and students from the Laboratory of Ichthyology at the Federal University of Paraná, who are now searching for solutions specifically to deal with the loss of floats and buoys, which are sometimes accompanied by the loss of the whole net. When trawling or using gillnets, fishers constantly change the height they are setting the nets: at the bottom, middle water column, or at the surface of the sea; and they do that by adding or removing floats. However, to save money, fishers try to use the same float more than once. They manually cut the float to refit it later to the net with the help of nails, glue or other makeshift material. If floats are damaged in the process, they may simply be discarded in the water. Even if they are not discarded after their first use, they will be discarded the next time fishers need to change the net height. This happens because the improvised holes do not always attach well to the net.

The solution proposed by these researchers involved the development of a replaceable float that  comes with a removable T-shape opening. If the fisher needs to remove the float, he simply forces the T-shape piece out of the float. The float is easily removed and can be stored for its next use. Next time the fisher needs to use it again, he attaches the float using the T-shape opening and glues the piece together. The T-shape piece allows fishers to add or remove the floats always by the same fit. As a result, floats last longer and decrease the amount of derelict gear in the sea. The new floats are not only better for the environment, but also for the fishers’ pockets, because fishers would not have to buy floats so often!! 

  On the left side, two T-shape floats designed by the Laboratory of Ichthyology at the Federal University of Paraná. On the right side, floats that have been reused (see the handmade cuts) and the new float (whiter) showing the T-shape float with a better and long lasting fit.  Photo from

The T-shape floats were distributed to fishers to be tested in three different Brazilian states (Paraná, Santa Catarina and São Paulo). Soon, it will be tested in Rio Grande do Norte as well.

Fishers have already provided their feedback and are now helping the researchers to find the best glue for the T-shape part. Meanwhile, kids are also learning about the problems caused by ghost fishing at the local schools and trying to come up with their own solutions. Since many of them are fishers’ children, researchers are hoping to avoid the same problems in the future, besides spilling the discussion into their homes.

T-shape floats being introduced to fishers in Paraná State. Photo from

This is a neat first step to approach such a harmful human-created problem. We are glad the world is also filled with creative people trying to minimize our impacts on Earth and specifically on our oceans.
Children being presented and searching for solutions to the problem of derelict fishing gear and ghost fishing. Photo from

                                                                                                                                                                                     By Adriana Carvalho 


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