Ghost Fishing UK clean up at the Plastic Free Awards

Image: Surfers Against Sewage

Ghost Fishing UK, the ocean conservation charity, has netted the Best Plastic Campaign prize at the Plastic free Awards 2021 for their voluntary work cleaning up our oceans of lost fishing gear.

It is estimated that 640,000 tonnes of lost fishing gear or ghost gear is lost into our oceans each year. Modern fishing gear is primarily made of plastics and not only continues catching and killing wildlife once it has been lost, but leaves a legacy issue of broken down plastic circulating in our oceans. These fragments known as microplastics can be ingested by animals and ultimately end up in our food chain.

The Plastic Free Awards returned for their second year to celebrate those making the biggest waves in the fight against plastic pollution. The awards are a unique opportunity to recognise the achievements of campaigners, innovators, small businesses and communities across the UK leading the charge on plastic.

Partnering with Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation, the awards are designed to bring together environmental champions and leaders of the plastic free movement. With twelve award categories covering all areas from Best Plastic Campaign to Youth Activist Award, anyone can be nominated – your, a friend, family member, school, community, or business – anyone you think is a plastic free hero. Shortlisted nominees are chosen by a panel of expert judges.

Volunteer divers from the charity Ghost Fishing UK are carefully selected to survey and recover lost fishing gear which is reported through their website. Both divers and fishermen are invited to report fishing gear losses so the team can recover them, stopping the cycle of death and pollution in its tracks. The materials are then stored until they reach sufficient quantities to be recycled into various items, including plant pots.

Operations Officer and trustee Fred Nunn said, ‘It’s so humbling to be recognised by the community when there are so, so many others all doing truly amazing things all towards a common goal.’

Scuba divers who make the grade are put through an intensive training course over three days to prepare them for dealing with ghost nets. The job underwater can be dangerous, often with poor visibility, hard physical work and the ever present risk of the divers becoming entangled in the nets themselves.

On the day of the awards ceremony, many of the divers missed the event as they were finishing up a project in Brighton to remove a huge net form the wreck of the Cairndhu, operating from Channel Diver. They were assisted by a trawling vessel who heard the team were in the area and offered to help, using his fishing boat to haul the net on board. The fishermen are hoping to be able to repair and re-use the net depending on how badly it has been damaged whilst entangled in the wreck. If not, the net will be sent for recycling.

Trustee Christine Grosart said, ‘Today was a fantastic day! It was brilliant to have a trawling vessel offer assistance to our mission to get the net off the Cairndhu but to go on and win this award in the evening was the cherry on the cake. Many people think we do this for a living but we don’t – we all have day jobs, families and normal lives to work around. It takes special individuals to give up what free time and cash they have spare to this cause and that is why they are so deserving of this award.’

Ghost Fishing UK’s award. Image: Rich Walker

‘To actually win this award means more to me than you can imagine. It means that I can publicly thank all of our dedicated volunteers, who scuba dive to recover lost fishing nets from the reefs and shipwrecks around the United Kingdom and the huge contribution that our divers make in keeping the projects happening. I can praise our instructors who teach our divers how to be safe and effective on our projects and show my appreciation to our committee who look after our administration, who send our message to the public, who make links with the fishing community and other groups.’, Rich Walker, Chairman, Ghost Fishing UK

Ghost Fishing UK this weekend is rolling out a new reporting system dedicated to fishermen and fishing vessels to be able to report lost fishing gear anonymously. The charity is very keen to work with the fishing community in harmony to help solve the problem of ghost fishing by getting accidentally lost gear out of the sea as soon as possible.

Rich Walker said, ‘I want to thank each and every one of the Ghost Fishing UK team, and all of our supporters. They are all a key part of the job to reduce our dependence on plastics and preventing it from getting into our beautiful oceans. And finally, a big thank you to the Surfers Against Sewage and the Plastic Free Awards for this prestigious award.

Image: Surfers Against Sewage

Head Judge Lucy Siegle said, ‘Congratulations to all our incredible winners you all do amazing work and are leading the change the world needs much more of. We are hugely optimistic about the future, thanks to you.’

Ghost Fishing UK would like to thank the Plastic Free Awards sponsors – Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation, Knight Frank and Finisterre. We would also like to thank Tom Raffield, Easkey Britton, and the Plastic Free Awards judges Lucy Siegle, Richard Walker [CEO, Iceland Foods], Hugo Tagholm, Gillian Burke, Lizzie Daly, Sian Sutherland, Liz Bonin, Dr Paula Owen, Dr Cliff Kapono, Ella Daish and Dan Crockett. Special thanks to the incredible winners and all who entered.