Abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear (generally referred to as ‘ghost gear’) is a known stressor of marine species, a cause of ecosystem degradation and a factor with significant economic cost to the fishing industry.[1] Ghost gear has been the focus of recent debate, attracting a considerable amount of attention in global policy fora.[2] In the ASEAN region, the removal of plastic litter has been made a priority by a number of States, with one of the most recent developments being the publication of Vietnam’s National Action Plan for Management of Marine Plastic Litter by 2030.

Vietnam has also stepped up efforts at regional cooperation for IUU fishing control.[3] Perhaps the country has been spurred by the yellow card raised by the EU in 2017 over poor IUU fishing control practices,[4] or its more recent extension.[5] Vietnam might also have been stirred by a low ranking by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime’s IUU Fishing Index.[6]

This move comes in the context of Vietnam’s double position of visibility in 2020, both as ASEAN chair, and as Standing Commissioner of the United Nations Security Council: one that no doubt will put pressure on the country to rise beyond the shadow cast by the EU’s yellow card on IUU fishing,[7] and another that should place it in an optimum position to promote cooperation policies that are congenial to its ambitious marine management objectives.

It is known that ghost gear and IUU fishing are two particularly challenging problems, even for countries that are committed to effecting sound ocean management. The links between ghost gear and IUU fishing are generally under-researched, but they have been a topic of increasing exploration in recent years. The Global Ghost Gear Initiative has suggested that a causal relationship is likely to exist: vessels fishing illegal may discard more gear in order to evade inspection or capture, or to hide illegal practices, and can lead to higher ghost gear impacts.[8]

In addition, a recent study by Richardson et al. involving ghost gear in Australia and Indonesian vessels operating in the region suggests that the loss of fishing gear may also be associated to related factors, including shortfalls in the governance of fishing grounds.[9] Amongst possible links, the author mentions poorly planned authorisation policies leading to undesirable interactions in overcrowded grounds resulting in gear conflict.

Additional research is needed to confidently establish the causes of ghost gear loss and abandonment in more detail in different regions and fisheries, and to fully unwrap the relationship between IUU fishing and ghost gear. Nevertheless, it seems likely that improving controls over illicit and/or undesirable operating practices and conditions that result in gear attrition should pay off as an approach to more efficient management.

The Global Ghost Gear Initiative has published resource and guidance documents for the removal of ghost gear www.ghostgear.org/resources

Research suggests that initiatives should include a focus on preventative practices, such as gear maintenance, repair and management workshops and policies, as well as investment in safe disposal infrastructure and where possible financial support. Yet, this should be approached without losing sight to the need for sound authorisation and appropriate management to avoid overfishing and undesirable overlaps in busy fishing grounds to avoid gear conflict where possible.[10]

The removal of plastic litter from commercial fishing, including the collection of 100% of ghost gear, is an ambitious positive commitment under Vietnam’s Action Plan. Yet, like any other country involved in oceanic resource management, Vietnam would also do well to reinforce preventative fishery authorisation and grounds management efforts, as well as appropriate monitoring and enforcement as part of IUU fishing control strategies.

Lastly, the ability of derelict fishing gear to cross borders as a result of marine currents implies that management strategies should involve regional cooperation where possible.[11] Given recent commitments made by ASEAN and their chair State this year,[12] 2020 looks set to be auspicious for ocean policy, but -as always- any benefits will be dependent on real political will and the determination to ensure commitments come to fruition through adequate and sustained implementation.

Mercedes Rosello, First published by www.houseofocean.org March 2020 and republished here with their kind permission

References

[1] APEC, Derelict Fishing Gear and Related Marine Debris: An Education Outreach Seminar Among APEC Partners (2004) [http://www.wpcouncil.org/documents/APECSeminar/Other%20Documents/Seminar%20Report.pdf].

[2] https://oceanconservancy.org/blog/2019/11/06/dispatches-ghost-gear-ocean-2019/

[3] https://theaseanpost.com/article/vietnam-joins-asean-effort-combat-iuu-fishing

[4] https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_17_4064

[5] https://e.vnexpress.net/news/news/vietnam-to-investigate-illegal-fishing-as-eu-yellow-card-remains-3942030.html

[6] https://globalinitiative.net/iuu-fishing-index/

[7] https://iegpolicy.agribusinessintelligence.informa.com/PL222714/Vietnam-plans-to-address-IUU-fishing-loopholes

[8] https://www.ghostgear.org/news/2017/5/31/iuu-and-ghost-gear-what-are-the-links

[9] K Richardson et al, Understanding causes of gear loss provides a sound basis for fisheries management (2018) 96 Marine Policy 278-284, 280.

[10] Richardson et al, p. 281.

[11] Richardson et al, p. 278.

[12] https://stopillegalfishing.com/news-articles/asean-network-for-combatting-iuu-fishing-established/