Huge Fishing net that was discarded kills marine life and wraps around reef – Florida
The net, which weighs an estimated 1,000 pounds, is the latest and most spectacular South Florida example of what’s called ghost fishing gear — lost or discarded nets, long lines and monofilament that continue to roam the ocean and catch fish, turtles, seabirds and other wildlife. A marine salvage company has been hired to retrieve it, a difficult and complex operation for which the company is awaiting near-perfect weather. Such nets are typically used to catch mahi-mahi, wahoo and other large fish found near the surface, said Sean Meehan, marine habitat restoration specialist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
–March 1, 2013|By David Fleshler, Sun Sentinel
A commercial fishing net at least 200 feet long has wrapped itself around an artificial reef about two miles off southern Broward County, where it has killed fish and a sea turtle.
The net, which weighs an estimated 1,000 pounds, is the latest and most spectacular South Florida example of what’s called ghost fishing gear — lost or discarded nets, long lines and monofilament that continue to roam the ocean and catch fish, turtles, seabirds and other wildlife.
No one knows where the net came from. A marine salvage company has been hired to retrieve it, a difficult and complex operation for which the company is awaiting near-perfect weather. State and federal law enforcement officials plan to examine it when it’s recovered.
Such nets are typically used to catch mahi-mahi, wahoo and other large fish found near the surface, said Sean Meehan, marine habitat restoration specialist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They occasionally get washed toward shore, without anyone claiming ownership.
“Generally, the thought is they blow off ships as they transit the East Coast,” he said. “Sometimes there’s identifying information on them, but often there’s not.”
The ghost net, which has floats at the top and lead weights at the bottom, was discovered about a month ago on the Tenneco Towers reef, part of an old oil rig from Louisiana that was placed offshore as an artificial reef — a structure that would attract fish and serve as a surface for coral and other marine life. The net has snared and killed grunts, other reef fish and a loggerhead turtle, whose skeleton was found hanging from it.
South Florida’s reefs are critical to the region’s ecological and economic health. One study found they accounted for more than $2 billion in annual income for Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach counties through such activities as fishing, diving and snorkeling.
Ghost fishing gear — from huge commercial nets to forgotten crab traps — kills wildlife in all the world’s oceans. At the Ocean Conservancy’s 2012 International Coastal Cleanup, which provides a one-day snapshot of marine debris, volunteers found 49 birds entangled in fishing line and nets, 27 mammals wrapped in rope, nets and other debris, and 18 reptiles in crab traps, plastic bags and fishing nets.
“They’re made of plastic and other synthetics, and they’re very durable,” said Nicholas Mallos, the Ocean Conservancy’s marine debris specialist. “They last a long time in the marine environment and continue to catch fish and other marine animals. At the surface, seabirds can become entangled in them, seals and sea lions, large whales. Whales, if they get entangled in them, can carry them for a long time.”
Industrial Divers Corp., of Fort Lauderdale, has been hired to recover the net, which is sitting in more than 100 feet of water. Divers will free the net from the reef, attach lift bags filled with air and bring it to shallower water, said Erin McDevitt, marine biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They will bundle it up so it doesn’t catch anything else and tow it to Port Everglades.
The net will go by truck to Doral, where Covanta Energy Corp.’s energy-from-waste plant will burn it to produce electricity. The company is a partner in the national Fishing for Energy program, processing and burning for energy old fishing gear and other marine debris at plants around the United States.
Because the money to salvage the net wasn’t immediately available, authorities raised the funds and obtained help from a variety of sources. Among the organizations are the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Broward Sheriff’s Office, Covanta Energy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Wildlife Foundation of Florida.
Authorities said curiosity seekers should stay away from the net, which they said would be a hazard to divers.
Although the discovery of a large commercial fishing net on a reef is highly unusual, South Florida’s reefs have a fair amount of trash on them — fishing line and hooks, cans, bottles, dive gear and other items, said Karen Bohnsack, regional management coordinator for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Coral Reef Conservation Program.
Last year an endangered 16-foot smalltooth sawfish was found dead, entangled in fishing line off Fort Lauderdale.
“There’s a lot of debris out there,” she said.