“Ghost nets” removed from Upper Gulf of California

By José Antonio Perez

More than 100 types of fishing gear have been secured as part of a program to remove “ghost nets” from the Upper Gulf of California to protect the endangered vaquita marina. The program is a joint effort of the Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT), the Mexican Navy (SEMAR), and the Secretary of Defense (SEDENA), along with fishermen and organizations from civil society.

A recent press release detailed over a period of 21 days, covering 11,814 kilometers, 136 types of abandoned fishing gear were detected of which 103 could be removed.

These “ghost nets” include fishing gear that was either abandoned or lost at sea, and that can float for months or even years while continuing to trap fish, crabs, lobster, turtles, and marine mammals. These can also affect eco-systems and the sea bottom, while representing navigational risks.

Per the United Nations, 640,000 tons of “ghost nets” are floating in the world’s oceans, representing a tenth of all sea waste. Various UN General Assembly resolutions have provided mandates to confront this problem, demanding concrete steps towards such goal.

In Mexico, removal of nets is a fundamental component of strategies to protect the vaquita marina and totoaba, both species of which are endemic to the Upper Gulf of California as well as at risk of extinction.

From October 10th through December 7th of this year, 36 totoaba gillnets were removed, 28 of which hadn’t even been used; 36 gillnets for shrimping; as well as 24 frames for catching totoaba, shark, and other species.  The nets measured between 80 to 500 meters in length, and all were in poor condition. An additional 7 pieces of trawling equipment or traps were removed.

Measures to remove “ghost nets” include three steps: locating through GPS by local fishermen who tow a hook or type of anchor along previously defined routes, removal of nets by environmental or navy authorities (PROFEPA, CONANP, SEMAR) in collaboration with organizations hauling specialized equipment (Sea Shepard Conservation Society and Museo de la Ballena), and then final transport and destruction of the network and fishing gear by PROFEPA.

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