Giant ghost-net lifted off Plymouth

Picture: Ghost Fishing UK / Christine Grosart.

Ten scuba volunteers with ocean-conservation charity Ghost Fishing UK have removed an abandoned 200m-long fishing net from the popular Plymouth dive-site Hand Deeps.

Back in action over the hot weekend of 8/9 August following a lull caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the dive-team were responding to reports that the net was endangering marine life as well as divers.

Christine Ingram of Plymouth Sound SAC had been one of the first divers to come across the net, strewn across two pinnacles at depths of 20-30m. “It was quite shocking to see how much damage these nets cause and I felt I had to report it straight away,” she said.

Following a survey dive from the dive-boat Seeker, the Ghost Fishing UK divers formed a plan and returned to retrieve the net.

Back at the surface they worked in “scorching” surface conditions to disentangle 115 trapped crabs, lobsters, a large pollack and other marine life, returning most of it to the sea alive.

“This net is huge but on reefs it is sometimes very difficult to pinpoint exactly where the ghost-gear is,” said Ghost Fishing UK trustee, instructor and photographer Christine Grosart. “Fortunately we had excellent information from several reports, and with good co-ordinates we were able to find it within eight minutes.”

“Hand Deeps is one of the most biodiverse reefs that we regularly dive and as such is a very popular spot for our customers,” commented James Balouza of Plymouth’s In Deep dive-centre, who skippered Seeker. “Ghost-nets, such as the one recovered this week, pose a threat to a vast array of marine life. Their swift and effective removal significantly decreases the impact to the marine environment and industries that depend on the health of our coast.”

Ghost Fishing UK depends on being able to train new volunteers to take part in its underwater operations efficiently and safely.

“Covid-19 set us back with our new recruits,” said Grosart, “but over the past five days we have been able to bring several of our newly trained divers out on their qualifying ‘live’ dives and continue building our amazing team.”

As part of this programme the volunteers recovered lost pots and other detritus during two days’ diving off Portland and then Lyme Regis in Dorset. In one pot they found and released a live conger eel.

17 August 2020

Established in 2015, Ghost Fishing UK now has 70 active volunteers, and encourages divers and fisheries to inform it about lost nets and pots, undertaking to return lost gear to owners where possible. It also works closely with the SeaLife Trust, Seasearch and the Cornish Plastic Pollution Coalition.

The charity depends on volunteers and welcomes donations – learn more here.

***  THE NATIONAL DIVING & Activity Centre inland site in Tidenham, Gloucestershire, is set to emerge from its coronavirus shutdown in time for winter diving, from 31 October. Initially it will open at weekends only, with accommodation available. Diver numbers will be limited through a new online pre-booking system, which is open now.