Abandoned Fishing Gear Makes 3,000-Mile Journey to Litter Scotland’s Beaches

Tags used to ID lobster traps from New England and Canada show the extensive distance marine debris can travel.

(Photo: Shetlandamenity.org)

Jun 20, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

During the 28th annual spring cleanup on Scotland’s Shetland Islands, thousands of volunteers picked up more than 70 tons of debris littering the once pristine coastline.

Cleanup crews at beach locations all over the island found an assortment of plastic tags mixed in with the mess of marine plastics and tons of abandoned fishing gear.

Those tags were to mark lobster traps set in the water more than 3,000 miles away along the North American coastline. Jane Outram, an organizer of the April 25 cleanup for the Shetland Amenity Trust, said the lettering on the tags allowed the team to trace them all the way back to Newfoundland and Maine.

“Some of the tags were set on traps as long ago as 1988,” Outram said in a release.

Related: The Cost of a Crab Dinner: Dead Whales

For nonprofit group World Animal Protection, North American lobster tags ending up on the Scottish isles shows the distance marine fishing debris can travel, but it’s the dead animals found in abandoned nets, lobster and crab cages, and loose ropes that show the devastating impact of the problem.

(Photo: Shetlandamenity.org)

So, Why Should You Care? With the switch from cotton and hemp-based fishing nets of the 1950s to synthetic-based plastic nets that don’t break down, abandoned gear is wreaking havoc on marine ecosystems for years and even centuries after it’s lost. Today, more than 200 marine species, including whales, dolphins, sharks, sea turtles, sea lions, and sea birds, are affected by derelict fishing gear.

“We work with many other organizations in the U.S., particularly along the Northeast coast, to track and record these types of lost fishing gear,” said Elizabeth Hogan, oceans and wildlife campaigns manager for World Animal Protection.

In an effort to keep abandoned gear from continually drifting and killing marine life, World Animal Protection has been working with the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation to remove derelict fishing gear that’s been left along the coast. So far, the team has removed 147 lobster traps and 1,000 pounds of rope.

To see where ghost nets and abandoned fishing gear is being reported around the world, check out the World Animal Protection Sea Change map here.