Monster ghost net removed from popular Plymouth reef

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A lost fishing net 200 metres long has been removed from the popular diving and fishing reef ‘Hand Deeps’ in Plymouth, by the ocean conservation charity Ghost Fishing UK.

A team of ten volunteer scuba divers belonging to the ocean conservation charity Ghost Fishing UK have been back in action after being kept away for months by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Christine Grosart/Ghost Fishing UK

They responded this week to reports from scuba divers belonging to Plymouth Sound Sub Aqua Club among others, to locate and survey the huge net, before making a plan to remove it.

Lost or abandoned fishing gear is problematic in our oceans, with an estimated 640,000 tonnes lost into the sea globally each year.

The lost nets and pots known as ‘Ghost Gear’ continue fishing non-stop. The catch is never landed and the trapped animals act as bait for others, in a non-stop cycle of wasteful deaths known as Ghost Fishing.

The team brought the net back on board the diving vessel Seeker before painstakingly unpicking 115 trapped animals from the net and returning them to the sea.

Christine Grosart/Ghost Fishing UK

Most animals were still alive and included spider crabs, lobsters, edible crabs and a large pollack.

Despite the scorching weather and requirement for face coverings and diligent hygiene on board, the team spent two hours following two dives freeing the animals.

We are so pleased to be able to get back out doing such important work, even in times like these” Christine Grosart told us. She is a trustee of the charity, an instructor for the Ghost Fishing UK course and photographer. “This net is huge but on reefs, it is sometimes very difficult to pinpoint exactly where the ghost gear is. Fortunately, we had excellent information from several reports and with good coordinates we were able to find it within 8 minutes.

It is extremely rewarding not just to recover such a huge net, but to release 115 animals back into the sea, the majority of which were still alive and kicking. Covid-19 set us back with our new recruits but over the last 5 days we have been able to bring several of our newly trained divers out on their qualifying ‘live’ dives and continue building our amazing team.”

The volunteers began their mission last weekend in Portland, Dorset and over two days recovered a dozen lost pots as well as other detritus. They then moved on to Lyme Regis and were able to recover large pots and return them to their owners, still in good condition.

One of the pots contained a live conger eel that was trapped in the netting within the cage.

Christine Grosart/Ghost Fishing UK

James Balouza from In Deep Dive Centre, Plymouth, skippered the boat over 2 days and is a big supporter of the charity which is made up entirely of volunteers.

Being able to support Ghost Fishing UK with logistics for their diving operation as well as to assist with the removal of the net from Hand Deeps was incredibly rewarding and also of prior importance to maintain the health of the reef. Hand Deeps is one of the most biodiverse reefs that we regularly dive and as such is a very popular spot for our customers. Ghost nets, such as the one recovered this week pose a threat to a vast array of marine life. Their swift and effective removal significantly decreases the impact to the marine environment and industries that depend on the health of our coast.”

Ghost fishing UK encourages divers and fisheries alike to tell them when and where nets and pots have been lost. ‘Live’ and active fishing gear is never touched and the charity is fully licensed for their unpaid work.

Local scuba diver Christine Ingram, from Plymouth Sound SAC Dive Club, among several others, reported the large fishing net to Ghost Fishing UK after coming across it during a club dive on the reef Hand Deeps. The net was strewn across two pinnacles at approximately 20-30m deep trapping all sorts of marine animals. Christine said: “It was quite shocking to see how much damage these nets cause and I felt I had to report it straight away.

Ghost Fishing UK is dependent on volunteers to give up their time for the charity to continue this important work and aims to work closely with the fishing industry. If fisheries are able to inform the volunteers when nets and pots are lost, they are able to respond much quicker. In some cases, they can return the gear to its owners.

To help support this unique and specialist charity, please consider making a small monthly donation at www.ghostfishing.co.uk/donate

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown are a husband and wife team of underwater photographers. Both have degrees in environmental biology from Manchester University, with Caroline also having a masters in animal behaviour. Nick is a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in underwater wildlife photography and he also has a masters in teaching. They are passionate about marine conservation and hope that their images can inspire people to look after the world's seas and oceans. Their Manchester-based company, Frogfish Photography, offers a wide range of services and advice. They offer tuition with their own tailor made course - the Complete Underwater Photography Award. The modules of the course have been written to complement the corresponding chapters in Nick's own book: Underwater Photography Art and Techniques. They also offer equipment sales and underwater photography trips in the UK and abroad. For more information visit www.frogfishphotography.com.

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