Joint removal of lost fishing gear to prevent marine animal entanglement

09/05/2014

A joint effort with our partners led to the successful removal of a large amount of abandoned fishing gear (known as ghost gear) from local waters off the New Hampshire coast, helping to make this area safer for marine animals.

More than 70 percent of north Atlantic right whales are estimated to have been entangled in fishing gear, predominantly lobster pots, at some point during their lives.

Together with representatives from Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation and New Hampshire Sea Grant, we were able to locate and remove lost traps left on the sea floor using side-scan sonar equipment loaned by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS). Local New Hampshire fisherman Lee Schatvet loaned his boat, Yesterday’s Storm, and assistance to the project. The New Hampshire Department of Fish & Game was also on hand to oversee the removal of the gear. 

The team scouted waters off Rye Harbor, around the Isles of Shoals and Gosport Harbor and managed to pull out some 24 lost lobster traps and over 400 pounds of inactive fishing rope and line. 127 animals, including lobsters (several of whom were carrying eggs), crabs, and fish, were found inside inactive traps and were released into local waters. All traps that were still in good condition – 18 in total -- were returned to their owners. 

“This was a true collaborative effort that yielded win-win results for all involved,” said Elizabeth Hogan, U.S. Oceans and Wildlife Campaign Manager for World Animal Protection. “The owners of the located traps got their gear back; trapped lobsters, crabs, and other marine life were safely released back into the ocean; and lost gear that risks entangling animals and damaging boats was removed from the marine ecosystem. We are grateful for the invaluable support of our partner organizations and of local fisherman Lee Schatvet, whose boat and assistance allowed us to retrieve such a large amount of inactive gear from the water.” 

“After years of doing cleanups on the shoreline and on the Isles of Shoals, we were excited to finally be able to retrieve some underwater fishing gear for the benefit of both the local marine environment and ocean users,” said Jen Kennedy, Executive Director of Blue Ocean Society. “It’s only through a collaborative effort like this that these projects can be conducted, and we hope this will pave the way for future successful projects.”

“It’s exciting to see this type of underwater detection and removal project occurring as it should, removing lost gear from our waters, having NH Fish and Game call the owner and being able to return equipment to its rightful owner,” said Gabriela Bradt, Extension Specialist, Fisheries, for New Hampshire Sea Grant. “This whole project was built upon good working partnerships between fishermen, law enforcement, and our three organizations, and serves as a great example of what can get accomplished in this manner.”

New England waters are home to the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, the population of which is estimated to be just 510 in the western north Atlantic Ocean. More than 70 percent of north Atlantic right whales are estimated to have been entangled in fishing gear, predominantly lobster pots, at some point during their lives. 

Learn more about our Sea Change campaign to reduce the volume of lost fishing gear in global waters and protect marine animals from entanglement.