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Ghost Gear Prevention in the Seafood Industry

Abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear—also known as ghost gear—is the deadliest form of plastic in our ocean impacting marine life and fish stock levels. However, through the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, we are investing in sustainable solutions addressing this problem and encouraging the uptake of innovative policies as detailed in our Best Practice Framework for the Management of Fishing Gear (BPF). The BPF is a practical guidance tool for all stakeholders across the seafood supply chain on how to prevent, mitigate and remediate ghost gear effectively. The GGGI works together with all stakeholders—from governments to academia, NGOs and corporate partners. In this post, we will go into more detail about how we work within various levels of the seafood industry to address the problem of ghost gear.

Ghost gear is being taken increasingly more seriously as a sustainability issue that seafood businesses must address as part of corporate social responsibility CSR and sourcing policies. For example, the Seafood Stewardship Index (SSI) hosted by the World Benchmarking Alliance is including more detailed indicators on ALDFG in the new index that will be published in 2022. At the same time, the BPF is becoming more widely used and implemented in corporate practice. Waitrose & Partners, for example, has made adherence to the GGGI BPF mandatory for all of its suppliers, while Young’s Seafood has used the BPF to conduct a risk assessment in its supply chain and Thai Union has developed a work plan to address ghost gear in Thailand based on recommendations in the BPF.

The BPF guidelines have also expanded into grocery stores. Friend of the Sea is a nonprofit organization that certifies sustainable seafood products and services. They are one of the certification groups that label a can of tuna or salmon fillet to verify which products in the seafood aisle are sustainable, and they have implemented language on ghost gear in their standard based on the BPF. Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program also includes ghost gear as part of their evaluations. Most recently, the Global Seafood Assurances (GSA) released their Responsible Fishing Vessel Standard, which requires procedures that address ALDFG as standard criteria for their certification based on input from the GGGI.

Not all sustainable seafood labels consider ghost gear solutions in their certification process yet but the GGGI hopes that the BPF will be institutionalized even further. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), linked to the blue checkmark you might see on seafood products, is revising their standards to include more stringent ghost gear mitigation strategies. The GGGI has been actively engaged in the consultation process and is hoping to see stronger and quantifiable measures on ALDFG mitigation included. Some companies, like Thai Union, are already actively including ghost gear strategies in their Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs) for fisheries they are hoping to certify further under MSC.

The GGGI aims to ensure that the adoption of the BPF by all stakeholders across the seafood supply chain is as easy as possible to achieve lasting preventative impact at scale. This is our motivation for adapting the document into an engaging online training tool as well as drafting a “companion guide,” which breaks down the BPF into five achievable goals. Both tools are available for GGGI private sector members and have been the topic of a four-part webinar series hosted in 2020 providing an interactive platform for discussion around how retailers and fishers can put the BPF into practice. In 2021, GGGI will also launch a refreshed version of the BPF including the latest science, developments and feedback gathered during these webinars and the regional capacity-building workshops, as well as a brand-new BPF for the aquaculture industry.

(C) Matthew Gilbert_Ocean Conservancy 4
© Matthew Gilbert

The recognition that best management practice for fishing gear and the suite of interventions detailed in the GGGI’s BPF are the key to tackling ghost gear is growing. There is no silver bullet answer when it comes to ghost gear but rather a need for each stakeholder to do its part along the fishing gear lifecycle. The BPF can be adapted and localized for each GGGI member’s needs, and members from across sectors can work together on prevention, mitigation and remediating actions to tackle ghost gear once and for all!

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