Articla series - Status Danmark - Ghost nets in Danish seas: out of sight and out of mind

Momentum for creating truly effective solutions to put an end to ghost nets has never been higher, states Thomas Kirk Sørensen, Ocean Programme Manager, WWF Denmark in his article about the current status in Denmark

Plastic pollution in the seas surrounding Denmark has in recent years become an extremely hot topic among politicians, NGO’s, supermarkets and the general public.

Discussions surrounding marine plastic litter were initially focused solely on e.g. microplastics, carrier bags, and single use plastics. It wasn’t until 2017, where WWF Denmark published an opinion piece in Danish media, that derelict fishing gear became a more common part of these discussions. This is due to the fact that, despite EU Council Regulation 1224/2009 (Art. 48) legally obliging all fishermen to report loss of fishing gear to fisheries control authorities within 24 hours, a parliamentary inquiry revealed that, over a period of several years, zero lost nets had been registered by Danish authorities. Given that many ghost gears had been located and retrieved in adjacent Norwegian, German and Swedish seas, zero was hardly a representative number.

Derelict fishing gear, or ghost nets as they are commonly referred to, represent a particularly dangerous kind of plastic pollution. In addition to the plastic itself, which over time sheds microplastics, ghost nets represent a major threat to marine life (including marine mammals, invertebrates, birds and fish) due to the longevity of the gear and high risk of entanglement. WWF therefore set out to prove that ghost nets actually exist in Danish seas. WWF Denmark joined a team of divers on an expedition in the Danish Kattegat, documenting massive ghost nets on shipwrecks. In addition, a crowdsourcing initiative was launched, where divers could report any lost nets that they encountered.

The response was overwhelming and politicians from all political parties agreed to put an end to this environmental hazard. The minister of both fisheries and the environment at the time, Esben Lunde Larsen, made a promise to include derelict fishing gear in a future action plan against plastic pollution. It can only be assumed that this promise has been inherited by the current minister and many parts of society are currently awaiting the arrival of this action plan.

In addition to other relevant environmental legislation (e.g. the Marine Strategy Framework Directive), the EU has recently proposed new legislation to curb plastic pollution from lost fishing gear (including extended producer responsibility schemes) as well as new laws regarding port reception facilities to reduce sea-based litter. In the summer of 2018, FAO will likely approve voluntary guidelines for effective marking of fishing gear.

Momentum for creating truly effective solutions to put an end to ghost nets has therefore never been higher. Solutions should at least include additional baseline surveys to determine the magnitude of the existing ghost net problem in Danish seas, marking of gears to identify ownership and to facilitate localization of lost gears and a smart reporting system to report gear loss. These solutions should inform future retrieval operations and enable Denmark to provide more precise information on fishing gear loss in Danish waters in the future.


Photo: Older and more recently lost ghost nets retrieved from a shipwreck in the Kattegat by WWF Denmark. Photo: WWF/Martin Stampe.

The text is written by Thomas Kirk Sørensen, Ocean Programme Manager, WWF Denmark

Published: 11.7.2018