Ghosts beneath the waves - fish tangled in ghost gear - Sea Change - World Animal Protection

To stop the deaths of countless sea animals, we need to tag fishing gear


To help stop sea animals being harmed by lost fishing gear, we’re calling on the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to ensure all fishing nets are tagged by 2025.

Every year, over 136,000 whales, dolphins, seals and turtles are caught in ghost gear – lost, discarded or abandoned fishing equipment.  

A staggering 640,000 tonnes, the equivalent of 52,000 London double decker buses, or 12 Sydney Harbour Bridges of ghost gear is left in our oceans annually. Some of these nets are bigger than football pitches. 

Fishing gear is designed to capture and kill, and continues to do this after it’s left in the ocean. Some gear can take 600 years to break down, causing enormous suffering to the marine animals caught up in it. 

This has a devastating impact on people’s livelihoods as well, with an estimated 5 - 30% of the decline in some fish stocks caused by ghost gear. 

The need for tagging

Currently, there are no effective and consistent ways of identifying the owner of fishing gear when it’s lost or abandoned. This makes it harder to hold companies responsible and identify illegal fishing operations.  

If all commercial fishing nets were tagged, fishing vessels would be incentivised to do more to ensure nets aren’t lost and recover those that are. Enforcement agencies would have the opportunity to trace offenders. 

With various gear marking methods already available and new technologies on the horizon, gear marking is a realistic option to prevent gear loss and ultimately protect sea animals. 

The ease of tagging 

There’s already many options for tagging gear available, and emerging technology is making it easier and more cost-effective all the time. 

The current options include: 

  • physical tags 
  • chemical marking 
  • colour-coding 
  • radio-frequency identification (RFID) 
  • radio beacons 
  • satellite buoys  


The UN must act

With so many cost-effective options available, the UN must act to adopt guidelines to tag all commercial fishing gear before 2025. We’re attending the FAO’s Committee on Fisheries in Rome this month to present the case for this vital new step in fisheries policy. 

The situation is critical. 

The level of ghost gear has increased in recent years, and is likely to grow further as fishing efforts intensify. This will lead to the needless deaths of hundreds of thousands more marine animals, costing governments millions of dollars in clean-up expenses. 

Ingrid Giskes, our global head of sea change, said: “Ghost gear poses the most danger to marine animals compared to all other forms of human-caused marine debris, and is four times more likely to impact marine life through entanglement than all other forms of marine debris combined.  

“Marking fishing gear, as part of a package of preventative fisheries management measures, will help whales, dolphins, seals and turtles who get caught in this incredibly durable gear by making it possible for gear to be traced back to its source. The UN must show leadership and protect our oceans from ghost gear.” 

Help us make a sea change

We are all responsible for the health of our oceans and the marine life within them. 

Find out more about our Sea Change campaign, and how you can help protect marine animals.  

Header image credit: Jordi Chias and 

“Ghost gear poses the most danger to marine animals compared to all other forms of human-caused marine debris, and is four times more likely to impact marine life through entanglement than all other forms of marine debris combined.