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USA Joins the Global Ghost Gear Initiative to Tackle Most Prevalent Form of Ocean Plastic Pollution

by Madeline Black 21 Jul 15:17 PDT

Today, the United States government announced it is joining the Global Ghost Gear Initiative® (GGGI), the world's only global platform for tackling abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear, also known as ghost gear.

In doing so, the U.S. joins more than 100 member organizations including 15 other national governments and 13 U.S. fishing and seafood companies signaling their commitment to combatting the issue domestically and internationally.

"This is an incredible milestone for the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, and we hope it creates a sea change for this issue," said GGGI Director Ingrid Giskes. "As awareness of the ghost gear threat has grown, we've been heartened to see key fishing nations take action. We have welcomed U.S. support and leadership on the issue to date, and we're excited to have them onboard as a GGGI member as we expand our partnership to protect our ocean."

Ghost gear is the single deadliest form of marine debris to sea life, continuing to catch and kill organisms long after it has been lost or discarded in the ocean. It is also one of the most prevalent: recent studies indicate that ghost fishing gear makes up 46-70% of all floating macroplastics in the ocean by weight. Globally, an estimated 90% of species caught in lost gear are of commercial value.

As the world's largest economy and a major fishing nation, the U.S. is uniquely positioned to make a difference on this issue. The U.S. is one of the top seven capture fishery producers globally, making up 6% of the world's total catch production; and accounts for 19% of the world's total seafood consumption. Fisheries across the country are impacted by ghost gear: in New England, fishers report losing 10-30% of their lobster traps, lines and buoys annually; while in the Gulf of Mexico, an estimated 250,000 derelict crab traps are lost each year.

The Department of State has worked with the GGGI since 2018 via a grant-funded project in the Caribbean to incentivize good fisheries management through inclusion of best gear management practices in an insurance product; and lead efforts to develop innovative fishing gear and gear tracking technologies to prevent ghost gear from occurring while facilitating gear recovery.

"Addressing marine debris, including ghost gear, is a key administration priority. By signing this statement of support, the U.S. government joins more than eighty-five organizations and fifteen other countries in acknowledging the significant impact ghost gear has on marine ecosystems and human health and livelihoods," said the U.S. Department of State in a statement.

Launched in 2015 and a part of Ocean Conservancy's Trash Free Seas® program since 2019, the GGGI is the only cross-sectoral alliance that addresses the problem of abandoned fishing gear worldwide. Through the collective impact of its more than 100 members spanning across the private and public sectors, the GGGI aims to reduce the ecological and economic impacts of ghost gear through prevention, mitigation and removals. The initiative also works closely with fishers across the world to help develop local solutions. NOAA has been a partner of the GGGI since 2016, and worked to help shape the initiative's trajectory by serving on its Steering Group for two consecutive years.

"NOAA's Marine Debris Program has worked closely with the partnership over the past several years and we recognize its work and diverse membership as critical to addressing the global problem of ghost gear," said Nancy Wallace, director of the Marine Debris Program. "We look forward to continued partnership with the Global Ghost Gear Initiative and its many stakeholder entities in the years ahead."

As a GGGI member, the U.S. will continue to support the mission areas of the GGGI, including implementing best practices for the marking, tracking and reporting of fishing gear; mapping gear hotspot areas; developing methods and markets for the recycling of end-of-life gear; and retrieving fishing gear in sensitive habitats and key fishing grounds.

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