NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

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Derelict Fishing Nets and the Pacific Islands

Derelict fishing nets are a big marine debris problem. These nets can entangle wildlife, create major hazards to navigation, and can damage sensitive and important habitats. Unfortunately, they can also be difficult to address as they often have few identifying characteristics. This makes determining their source challenging and makes derelict nets difficult to track.

Derelict fishing nets are a particularly large problem in the Hawaiian archipelago, due to Hawaii’s geographic location in the North Pacific Gyre and Convergence Zone and the large amounts of fishing that occurs domestically and internationally in the Pacific. The North and East Coast shorelines of each Hawaiian Island are the most impacted, due to the northeast trade winds that blow this debris ashore. These nets may come from local origin or from far-off sources throughout the Pacific, but it’s difficult to tell without identifying markers such as a specific regional style (which can often be used to determine the general source of debris like derelict crab traps), serial numbers, or writing. Interestingly, Hawaii’s main commercial fishing industry is longline fishing targeting pelagic (open ocean) species, but the majority of the nets and ropes found in Hawaii are made of trawl or purse seine types, which suggests they are likely not of local origin.

No matter where these derelict nets hail from, they create a problem in this region that must be addressed. Prevention is the key to addressing marine debris, so raising awareness about the issue and educating fishermen is important. However, since the origin of most of these derelict nets is unknown and there are already many nets that litter Hawaiian shores, removal is also a very important part of solving the problem of derelict fishing nets. Recently, the NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) Pacific Islands Regional staff have received an increase in reports of huge derelict fishing net conglomerates, so removal efforts are particularly important.

There are currently many groups that are working to remove this debris, including the Hawai’i Wildlife Fund, which is leading net patrols and removing debris from over 200 miles of coastline on four different Hawaiian islands through a project recently funded by a MDP Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant. Surfrider Kaua’i, previously funded by the MDP, is also active in conducting net patrols in Hawaii (check out the giant net they found!). In addition, there are numerous organizations performing beach cleanups in this area, including the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources; these efforts have been an excellent example of the collaborative efforts put forth to implement the Hawai’i Marine Debris Action Plan. This removed debris is disposed of properly and when possible, and recycled through programs such as the Hawai’i Nets to Energy Program.

For more on derelict fishing nets in Hawaii, check out this 2014 interview with NOAA scientists.

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Northeast Region: Derelict Fishing Gear

By: Keith Cialino and Leah Henry

Ghost fishing occurs when lost or discarded fishing gear, that is no longer under a fisherman’s control, continues to trap and kill fish, crustaceans, marine mammals, sea turtles, and seabirds. Derelict fishing nets and traps can continue to ghost fish for years after they are lost. Every year marine species, from lobsters and fish to sea lions and birds, become trapped or entangled in lost, abandoned or discarded fishing gear. Fishing for Energy works to prevent those impacts.

In 2014, the Fishing for Energy partnership successfully diverted 328,580 pounds of gear at 11 bin locations located within the Northeast region. 

 Map of Fishing for Energy bin locations in the Northeast (Photo Credit: NFWF)

Map of Fishing for Energy bin locations in the Northeast (Photo Credit: NFWF)

Fishing for Energy is a partnership between the NOAA Marine Debris Program, Covanta Energy Corporation (link is external), National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (link is external) (NFWF), and Schnitzer Steel Industries (link is external), to prevent and reduce the impacts of derelict fishing gear in the marine environment. The program provides the fishing community no-cost options for disposing of old or unwanted gear, nets, line, and rope and together Fishing for Energy partners convert that gear into energy.

Since 2008, the Fishing for Energy partnership has provided collection bins at 37 participating ports in nine states, drawing over 2.8 million pounds of fishing gear. Gear collected at the ports is first sorted at Schnitzer Steel for metals recycling, and the remaining non-recyclable material is converted into energy at Covanta Energy locations. Approximately one ton of derelict nets equals enough electricity to power one home for 25 days.

Additionally, the NOAA Marine Debris Program released its Ghost Fishing Report earlier this year to provide a summary of the current scientific knowledge on the topic.

Find out more about Marine Debris efforts in the Northeast at

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Spotlight: How Our Partners Turn Net Loss into a Win for Wildlife

A few days ago, we highlighted derelict crab and lobster trap projects we’re supporting across the United States, in an effort to reduce “ghostfishing” and other impacts from derelict fishing gear.

But traps and pots aren’t the only kind of derelict fishing gear that causes problems – fishing nets can also entangle animals, damage habitat, and put vessels at risk for years after they’re lost in the ocean or Great Lakes.

Fortunately, groups all over the country are tackling derelict nets as well. The Marine Debris Program is supporting various net removal efforts, as well as education and outreach on how to prevent fishing net loss. For example, if you’re a recreational angler in the Great Lakes, do you know how to spot an active commercial gill net in the water in order to avoid running over it?

Here are a few recent derelict fishing net projects the NOAA Marine Debris Program is funding or supporting across the country!