Volunteer divers have recovered “ghost fishing gear” weighing about 400lb – more than 180kg – from the seabed about six miles off Brighton.
They set out from Brighton Marina and focused on fishing nets on the shipwreck of the Pentyrch, a cargo steamship sunk by a German submarine in the First World War.
The mission was organised by the charity Ghost Fishing UK and the Sussex Wildlife Trust as part of the trust’s Wild Coast Sussex project.
Ghost Fishing UK said that it was responding “to reports from scuba divers in the Brighton area to locate and survey lost fishing nets on the shipwreck of the Pentyrch, before making a plan to remove it”.
The charity said: “Lost or abandoned fishing gear is problematic in our oceans, with an estimated 640,000 tonnes lost into the sea globally each year.
“The lost nets and pots known as ‘ghost gear’ continue fishing non-stop. The catch is never landed and the trapped animals act as bait for others in a non-stop cycle of wasteful deaths known as ‘ghost fishing’.
“The team brought the net back on board the diving vessel Channel Diver operating from Brighton Marina and the net will now be stored for recycling.
“Despite covid-19 restrictions, the team underwent daily testing and diligent hygiene in order to carry out the mission.
“This was the second mission the team of volunteers had undertaken in the Sussex region this year following plentiful reports by scuba divers of lost nets fouling the wrecks in the area, causing a hazard not just to them but the wildlife along the Sussex coastline.
“Working in 18 metres of water, the visibility was good – and the divers have so far this season been able to recover 275kg of lost nets in just three dives.”
Ghost Fishing UK trustee Christine Grosart, who also acts as an underwater photographer for the charity, said: “The team were delighted to be asked to join up with Sussex Wildlife Trust’s Wild Coast Sussex project.
“It was great to have them on the boat so that they could see what goes on at the sharp end of our charity, removing ghost gear from the sea.
“And it was great to finally start cleaning up the Sussex region where we had not been before this spring.”
The Wild Coast Sussex project was set up to inspire local communities to care for the marine environment and enable them to protect their coast and sea.
The project has been awarded a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant and has the support of the Marine Conservation Society, Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority and Brighton Sea Life.
Its aims are to
- inspire and connect people to the Sussex coast and sea
- engage people in direct action to protect the Sussex coast and sea
- enable learning and activities that encourage people to make positive lifestyle choices and behaviour change to reduce negative impacts on the Sussex coast and sea
- empower people to share experience and influence others to protect the Sussex coast and sea
Ghost Fishing UK was invited to get involved because of its extensive experience training divers to survey and recover lost fishing gear safely.
It operates an online reporting system which is open to fishermen and divers.
Wild Coast Sussex project manager Nikki Hills joined the team on board the Channel Diver. She said: “It was fantastic to join the Ghost Fishing UK team on a trip to recover ghost nets off the Sussex Coast and see first-hand the dedicated work of the divers and the amount of net they managed to remove.
“Removing this net is so important because, if left, it can trap precious marine wildlife and add to plastic in the sea.
“The Wild Coast Sussex project is really pleased to support the work of Ghost Fishing UK – and it’s great to have them in Sussex.”
The SS Pentyrch was a cargo steamship which was torpedoed in 1918 close to where the Rampion Wind Farm now stands.
Ghost Fishing UK said that plenty of the wreckage could still be seen protruding from the sandy seabed.
It added: “Unfortunately, these protrusions snag on fishing nets and can cause them to break away. They then continue to fish until they can be removed.”
Miss Grosart said “We are very grateful for the reports from divers about these nets. We are also very keen to work with the fishing industry to get these unfortunate losses, which are not deliberate, back out of the sea.
“We would urge fishermen to tell us if they have lost any pots or nets so that we can see if it is possible for us to remove and then recycle them.
“We are soon launching a reporting system dedicated for fishermen so that they can report losses to us in confidence.”