Article series - Status Finland

A Finnish scientist tells about the status, challenges, and the future in Finnish fisheries in regard to ghost fishing.

Marine litter is becoming an increasing concern in Finland. Numerous studies on different types of marine litter, their sources, pathways, impact to the marine environment and toxicity of marine litter have been conducted in the recent past.  Marine litter is a matter of high public interest in media, too.


The first studies on beach litter in Finland were carried out already in the early 1990’s. A total of 15 selected beaches in the Bothnian Sea, Åland archipelago and the Gulf of Finland were monitored. Currently, 12 beaches are monitored three times per year and regular shore clean-up campaigns for general public are arranged every spring and autumn covering parts of the Baltic Sea coasts, including now also various lakes and riverbanks. These campaigns have received wide attention which, together with continuous news on oceanic garbage patches and microbeads in personal care products, has increased awareness of the topic.


Copyright Badewanne/Sten Stockmann

A two-year national project Roskat pois! (remove the trash in English), funded by a European Marine and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) is running. The project aims to identify the most important sources of both land-based and sea-based marine litter in Finland and developing a roadmap towards “marine litter free Finland”. It also arranges an idea contest for citizens how to prevent the litter from reaching the sea, and carries out awareness rising through the competition website ( A report on the sources will be available in spring 2018. A separate study, “The role of maritime traffic as a source of marine litter in Finland”, will give a comprehensive overview of the state of treatment and storage of litter in the ports and on board vessels at sea.  As regards fisheries, another study will cover marine littering of commercial fisheries, fish farming and aquaculture. Further, it will also bring up the impact of marine litter on commercial fishery in general, and especially from the socio-economic point of view. These two studies are part of the Roskat pois! project, and will definitely increase knowledge of marine littering in the northern part of the Baltic Sea. Abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear is only a fraction of the challenge and is not an objective of the Roskat pois! project.  


Fishery in Finland

 All data and information are based on Statistical Services / Natural Resources Institute Finland.

Source: OSF: Natural Resources Institute Finland, Commercial marine fishery.


Commercial Fishery in Finland (sea areas)


The Finnish fishing fleet in 2016 was around 3000 boats. A majority of the fleet was < 6 m in length and primarily used for trap net and gillnet fishing (Figure 1).  The number of these boats has declined considerably during the past two decades. The number of medium-sized boats (12 to 24 m) has decreased by 75 % in 20 years. A temporal drop of boats < 10 m in 2015 was due to a change in registration. Registered but unused fishing boats were removed from the registry. In the 1980’s, there were still 4700 commercial fishermen while in year 2016 only 2000 fishermen earned more than 30 % of their annual income from fisheries.    


Figure 1

Figure 1. Number of commercial fishing boats in Finland 1996-2016 


Gillnet fishing is still the most common fishing method in terms of gear days, although the effort of gillnet fishing has diminished by 50 % since the late 1990’s (Figure 2).


Figure 2

Figure 2.  Fishing effort in commercial Fishery in Finland (sea areas)


Commercial catches in Finland

 The annual catch of Baltic herring was 85000 t/a in mid-1980’s but declined drastically in the early 1990’s as many fur farms, utilizing herring as feed, were closed down. Since 2004, when the biggest trawlers were sold to foreign fishermen, the annual catch of Baltic herring has increased considerably.


Due to the increase of trawling activity, the annual cathes of of commercial fishery have increased more than 50 % since the 1980’s. In 2016, more than 90 % of the total catch (157 300 t/a) was herring and sprat (Figures 3 and 4). The third most caught species was perch with a catch of 700 t/a. The commercial catches of smelt and bream were 670 t/a and 500 t/a, respectively (Figure 3).


Figure 3

Figure 3. Commercial catches of the five most common species (t/a) in Finland 1984-2016.  


Figure 4

Figure 4. Total commercial catches (t/a) in Finland (in sea areas)     .


Recreational Fishery in Finland (sea areas)


All data and information are based on Statistical Services of Natural Resources Institute Finland.

Source: OSF: Natural Resources Institute Finland, Recreational Fishing.

 The number of recreational fishermen in Finland has been around 300 000 during the last decade. In 2016, 58 % of them fished with hook and line, 51% were spinning and 35% jigging, respectively. Less than every fourth (23 %) fishermen fished with gillnets.


The Finnish Fishing Act stipulates that angling with one hook and line, ice fishing or herring fishing with a rig is free of charge. Lure fishing with one rod is free of charge for fishermen < 18 and > 65 years. Fishermen between 18 and 64 years need to purchase ‘Fishery management fee’, which allows lure fishing with one rod (invalid in the Åland Islands, Lapland and some special regions).  Other types of fishing, i.e. nets, long-lines, cray fishing, traps, etc., require always the ‘Fishery management fee’ and a permission of the water owner.


Recreational catches in Finland (sea area)


Since 2000, recreational catches have dropped from 11600 to 7500 t/a (Table 1, Figure 5). Perch, white fish, pike and bream were most commonly caught species in 2016, the catch of perch being slightly over 2000 t/a. 


Figure 5

Figure 5. Catches of the most important species in recreational Fishery in Finland (sea areas).

 Losses of fishing gear registered and retrieval solution

Source: Text is based on interviews of the Fishing tackle insurance associations and fishery officers in Finland.  


There are six regional Fishing Tackle Insurance Associations (FTIA) in Finland. They were established in the 1920’s to cover the accidental loss of fishing gear and tackles by professional fishermen as the commercial insurance companies found the fishing equipment too risky to be insured. Fishermen have insured their gears and tackles on a voluntary basis in FTIAs, and therefore, not all of them have been registered, and hence, not all the losses and damages have been reported. Still, the coverage is assumed to be substantially good.


Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Finland contributes annually the FTIAs to cover part of the damages. A typical damage is a break-down or loss of gear or tackles, but can also concern a fishing boat. Gear damage or loss due to a storm or severe ice-conditions is also covered. In recent years, catch losses due seal or sea birds have also been compensated. The associations have registered information about lost gear, tackles and equipment for decades, but a systematic analysis of gathered information has not been carried out. Therefore, the records of reported damages and losses are of great interest and value.


Currently, fishermen are not obliged to report a loss of a fishing gear or tackles to the responsible authorities in Finland. According to the fishing act, reporting of a loss is obligatory only when it can cause risk to maritime traffic. 


Magnitude of ghost fishing


The extent of ghost fishing in Finland is unknown, and only sporadic information has been received from Finnish diver clubs and associations when they have targeted on wrecks. Diver clubs have described entangled nets catching some fish and marine mammals around underwater objects. However, no systematic records or analyses have been released. It is assumed that sedimentation of lost gears happens very quickly in the Finnish sea areas, but there is no evidence to prove that.  


Reception and treatment of depleted, outdated and/or recovered fishing gear


There are six central Fishing ports in Finland and around 40 additional either regional or small local fishing ports along the coast. Regional port or fishing authorities organize together with fishermen occasional campaigns for cleaning up the fishing ports, but no regular or systematic collection of recovered fishing gear and tackles exists.




Professional fishermen break their trawls only occasionally, and due to improved technology (e.g., hydroacoustics, sonars, etc.) nowadays even less than before. Typically part of the netting is torn on rocks or wrecks, but an entire gear or tackle loss occurs very seldom. Trap nets get damaged due to a storm, in extreme ice-conditions or by seals. Minor loss of gillnets takes place for the same reasons as in trap net fishing.


The most challenging issue at present could probably be depleted, outdated or illegal gear on the land. Systematic collection of those gears could be organized, and subsequently, the collected material could be recycled, if possible.


Gear losses in recreational fishery have not been recorded. Here, a loss of a gear is not vital for earning of living but happens fairly often during the intensive fishing season in extreme weather conditions. First attempts to have estimates of gear losses are being conducted in a form of additional questions in a recreational fishery questionnaire, but no results are yet available.


Attitude of fishermen and authorities


Professional fishermen take care of their tackles and gear as every non-fishing day, and lost or damaged gear diminishes their income, i.e., money talks in decision making. Avoidance of damages in operation is of their interest. Traditionally regional fishermen keep control of their own region’s fishery, gears and tackles, the fishing site and inform each other very well on anomalies. The FTIAs are aware of the ghost net problem and have expressed their interest for co-operation considering the recovery of lost gear and tackles.  


Søppel i fangsten
From a bottom trawl survey from R/V Dana last autumn (bottom trawl, east SD26 (southeastern part of the Baltic Sea), depth 90-100m; copyright Natural Resources Institute Finland (LUKE)/Jukka Pönni)

Financial support or research funding


There are plans to get funding to launch a preliminary research on derelict and abandoned fishing gear in Finnish sea areas. Mapping of potential areas of ghost nets, establishing pilot areas for recovery trials and recovering ghost nets will be the first steps. A work package has also been drawn to study recycling of the collected material.  


The tasks are closely related to marine litter, and therefore, tentative bottom trawling in some areas could also be carried out. In addition, systematic collection of the unused, outdated and depleted gear on the land should be established. After sorting out and cleaning the material, the possibilities for recycling the material should be studied.


 Contribution of CNO?


As the follow-up plans of lost or unused fishing gear and equipment is non-existing in Finland, CNO could provide valuable information in order to set up a system on reporting  / informing authorities about dragging and collection.         


It would also be very valuable to share the CNO’s experiences on the communication with fishermen and successfulness of public relations, and how to spread the information amongst fishermen in order to avoid loss of gear and tackles in the future.

Experiences of CNO in ghost fishing would also be useful.

Additional funding and/or common project on some specific studies would be most welcome, as Finland is just starting to tackle these issues.




Firstly, the existing regional information of FTIAs should urgently be compiled and interviews of fishermen carried out in order to define the priority areas. Only then the extent of the problem can be estimated.


When the priority areas are defined, field tests with fishermen to drag lost gear should be carried out, and based on the results, stake holders and authorities should by informed widely. Depending on the results, the amount ghost fishing could also be estimated.


It seems that recreational fishing in terms of lost gears has been neglected but might play an important role at least in some regions. As there is no information on gear losses in recreational fishery, the study could be extended to that sector, too.  


Later on, a reporting procedure on commercial fishing could be established. Launching and lifting of gears are mandatory, but so should be reporting of losses or damages.  Possibilities to extend the study to fresh waters could be considered.

The text is written by Pekka Kotilainen from Finnish Environment Institute /

Suomen ympäristökeskus (SYKE).