Lost or discarded fishing gear is a major threat to marine wildlife, because it never stops fishing. Adrift in the current or on the sea floor, abandoned nets and traps take a deadly toll.
Consider the case of a single gill net pulled from the Puget Sound in 2009. Lost underwater for just six months, it trapped more than 450 salmon, 1,300 sharks, 1,800 birds, 16,900 crabs and 11 seals.
Estimates say that 10 to 30 percent of all commercial fishing gear is lost or discarded each year. Countless untethered nets, lobster and crab pots and other equipment continue to “ghost fish,” with lethal consequences.
But a major effort to keep derelict fishing gear out of coastal waters is making headway. The Fishing for Energy program, a partnership among Covanta Energy Corporation, NFWF, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Schnitzer Steel Industries, Inc., has hauled more than two million pounds of lost or discarded gear from the sea since 2008.
Derelict nets and traps are difficult to recover and even harder to dispose of. Once the gear is located, it must be dragged up and carried to shore. Fishing for Energy eases the disposal process by providing collection sites at ports in nine states. It furnishes free bins to dump the discarded gear, coordinates removal logistics, offers incentives to fishermen for at-sea removal of debris, and actively promotes the program through events, signage and outreach.
Once the gear has been collected, it’s recycled to generate a renewable source of electricity for local communities. Recovered metals are removed, and the remaining material is transformed into steam energy at Covanta Energy facilities.
Covanta employees across the country have become personally invested in the Fishing for Energy program; they assist in removal efforts, participate in community events, and host facility tours for officials and community residents.
As Fishing for Energy has grown, so has the demand. The first 2008 disposal site in New Bedford, Massachusetts has been joined by 42 others in Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New York, Virginia, Florida, California and Oregon. Participating fishermen are devising strategies to expand their gear recovery efforts, and local groups are funding workshops to generate new solutions.
The program is also supporting new methods to render traps inactive after a certain length of time, as required by current regulations. And Fishing for Energy outreach efforts at the Smithsonian National Zoo and Mystic Aquarium have created new displays highlighting the dangers of debris to marine wildlife.
With two million pounds of derelict gear removed and many more to come, the Fishing for Energy program is leading the way in solving one of the ocean's most challenging problems.