The Effect of Lost Fishing Nets & Crab Nets in the Ocean

The Effect of Lost Fishing NetsFishing nets, lines, pots and other gear sometimes separate from the boats that operate them and roam vast ocean distances. This can wreak ecological havoc, so fishers should be diligent about keeping control of their nets and properly disposing of them.

Marine Debris

Derelict fishing gear joins the array of human products discarded in the oceans. The United Nations estimates 6.4 million tons of marine debris are added every year.

Ghost Nets and Pots

Modern fishing nets are made from synthetic materials that don't biodegrade. Therefore, gear that gets loose from ships can circulate in the ocean and interface with marine communities for years. Such free-roaming lines--which can be miles long--are called "ghost nets." Similarly, "ghost pots" are abandoned crab traps.


Ghost nets can travel widely on ocean currents. For example, the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre can accumulate nets abandoned from anywhere in the North Pacific.

Ecological Effects

Ghost nets can damage delicate marine ecosystems when they snag on coral heads or seagrass pastures. They can also continue to "fish," tangling creatures such as fish, sea turtles, invertebrates, marine mammals and seabirds. Like other ocean debris, they can accumulate on beaches, even those far from population centers.

Other Effects

Lost fishing lines can also snare boat propellers and block water intake.

Article Written By Ethan Schowalter-Hay

Ethan Schowalter-Hay is a writer and naturalist living in Oregon. He has written for the "Observer," the Bureau of Land Management and various online publishers. He holds a Bachelor of Science in wildlife ecology and a graduate certificate in geographic information systems from the University of Wisconsin.

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