KARACHI: Ghost nets — a fishing gear discarded, lost or abandoned in the marine environment — have become a serious threat to marine life and the fisheries sector and there is a dire need for concerted efforts to remove them, said marine experts at a workshop.

Titled ‘Ghost nets and Fisheries of Pakistan’, the workshop was jointly organised by the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan and the Olive Ridley Project (ORP), a programme set up by two foreign marine biologists to protect and preserve the Indian Ocean from ghost nets, on the premises of Fisheries Cooperative Society on Thursday.

Briefing the audience about the term ‘ghost nets’, WWF-P coordinator Umair Shahid said derelict fishing gear, also referred to as ‘ghost gear’, was a serious threat to marine life as it continued to fish and trap animals, at times resulting in their death, besides damaging habitat and acting as a hazard to navigation.

“A large of number of protected and endangered animals including turtles and dolphins also get entangled in these gears and, at times, die,” he said.

Explaining how ‘ghost nets’ are damaging fisheries in Pakistan, technical adviser to WWF-P on marine fisheries Mohammad Moazzam Khan said the threat posed by ghost nets was increasing given the fact that fishermen lacked awareness about the subject and there were little effort for their removal.

According to him, the use of monofilament nets in shallow coastal waters has seriously affected the population of marine species especially lobsters in Pakistan. The nets made from a single fibre of plastic are easily broken and thus discarded in the sea.

Derelict fishing gear, such as nets or traps and ropes, was one of the main types of debris impacting the marine environment, he said, adding that floating ghost gears in the Arabian Sea moved offshore and inshore in substantial quantities and affected population of marine turtle.

Martin Stelfox, a renowned expert on ghost fishing representing the Olive Ridley Project, spoke about the ghost fishing experience of the Indian Ocean countries.

Ghost fishing, he said, was posing threat to marine life residing in shallow coastal waters especially to coral reef as well as in the offshore waters in many Indian Ocean countries including the Maldives, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan.

He informed the audience that a programme to remove ghost fishing gears in the Sandspit area was being initiated for which coastal communities were being engaged. A large number of ghost gears were found in the rocky sub-tidal area of Sandspit and Hawksbay, he said.

He lauded the effort of some divers’ organisations and individuals who voluntarily removed ghost nets from Churna Island and other areas along the Pakistan coast.

A message from the secretary of livestock and fisheries, also holding additional charge of managing director of the Karachi Fisheries Harbour Authority, Ramzan Awan, was also read out during the workshop.

In his message, Mr Awan stated that the government was striving hard to improve the fisheries sector and had taken a number of initiatives aimed at improving landing centres, conserving marine life and reducing post-harvest losses. “The government is in the process of enacting a law on the minimum catch size, to ban fishing of threatened fish species and to improve seafood processing and export,” he claimed.

Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2016

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