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Marine / Charity divers getting ready for ghost gear trip

Photo: Ghost Fishing UK

VOLUNTEER divers from a charity are preparing head to Shetland soon for a week-long mission to help the fishing community clean up the seas around the isles.

Responding to reports from local fishermen of large gill nets, mostly non native to the UK, catching all kinds of wildlife as well as wasting fish stocks, the team from Ghost Fishing UK is heading north to help tackle the problem.

The charity said Shetland fishermen, concerned about the environmental impact of unmonitored landings, discarded gill nets and an increase in harm to wildlife and unintended bycatch, contacted Christine Grosart, trustee of Ghost Fishing UK, to see if anything could be done to help.

She said: “I was shocked to receive some pretty harrowing images of enormous gill nets, dumped at sea, full of life including birds. We have a good track record of working in Orkney so figured Shetland should not be a problem for our team.”

The Ghost Fishing UK charity has been running since 2015 and operates with volunteers all over the UK, cleaning up lost fishing gear and recycling it wherever possible. The term ghost gear relates to discarded fishing equipment in the sea, such as netting.

The charity is unique in that it works with the fishing community to tackle the problem, and it said this has “changed the landscape of ocean conservation in the UK”.

“Since we won the Fishing News Awards a couple of years ago, attitudes have slowly been changing,” Grosart said.

“It is no longer ‘us and them’ when it comes to divers, conservationists and fishermen. We all want the same thing; a healthy, thriving ocean.”

The charity will be in Shetland between 6 and 11 August aboard the dive vessel MV Valhalla, and is looking for volunteers each evening to help with sorting recovered ghost gear and cleaning it, ready for recycling back on the mainland.

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Any recovered creels will be given back to the fishermen, and the charity is slowly receiving reports of lost gear.

They are appealing to fishermen to tell them if they know of any lost fishing gear in the 35 metre depth range.

Arlene Robertson from Fishing Forward, a pressure group with well over 3,000 members, said: “We are appalled at what is going on around Shetland/UK waters.

“We contacted and welcomed Ghost Fishing UK to Shetland to help highlight the truth. Shetland fishermen have been gathering photographic evidence of the tons of deliberately discarded fishing gear and domestic waste from foreign owned fishing boats which is desperately harmful for the environment and to wildlife.”

Ghost Fishing UK is also hosting an outreach evening on Thursday 10 August at the Shetland Museum, although tickets have now run out.

“It’s a full house,” Grosart said. “We are thrilled that we are going to have a mix of public, fishermen, divers and conservationists all in one place, working towards the same thing.

“We are hosting talks from Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary, Fishing Forward UK and of course providing updates on the project ourselves. It’s going to be a groundbreaking evening.”

Several local companies have offered assistance to the charity, including NorthLink Ferries and haulage firm DFDS.

The charity also crowdfunded to raise money to cover the cost of the boat and equipment and is almost on target for £20,000.

The team is planning on sending a couple of their members out on a fishing boat for the day to get a real feel for how the industry works, with two boats have offered to take the volunteers out.

Robertson added: “Fishing Forward UK and affiliated fishermen concur with Ghost Fishing UK in their quest for a clean, healthy, thriving ocean for us all to enjoy. Shetland fishermen want to invest in sustainable fishing; after all, it is their heritage, livelihood and future.”

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