Support Provided ByLearn More
NatureNature

Saving Sea Creatures By Removing Ghost Nets

ByTeal BurrellNOVA NextNOVA Next

Receive emails about upcoming NOVA programs and related content, as well as featured reporting about current events through a science lens.

Ashley Ahearn, reporting for the World, discusses ghost nets—lost or abandoned fishing nets that entangle and kill the ocean’s creatures.

Support Provided ByLearn More

Here in Puget Sound, Doug Monk leads ghost net removal operations for the Northwest Straits Foundation, which uses sonar to find ghost nets and then sends divers down to remove them.

“We’ve pulled nets that have 50-60 birds in them, 1,200 crabs,” says Monk, who’s been a commercial diver on the Olympic Peninsula near Seattle for some 20 years, harvesting shellfish and sea cucumbers. For the past decade he’s also been fishing for ghost nets.

crab fishing line
A fisherman removes a fishing line from a crab before releasing it back to the sea.

Ghost nets unwittingly trap an unknown number of sea creatures—fish, crabs, starfish, dolphins, seals, and birds—every year. They amount to lost revenue for fishing and crabbing businesses, hurting the very industry responsible for leaving the nets. Numerous nonprofits, such as the Northwest Straits Foundation, have been established around the world to help tackle the problem. They remove existing nets and work with fisherman to prevent additional lost nets.

As [Joan] Drinkwin [programs director of the Northwest Straits Foundation] watches another giant net being pulled from the deep onto the Bet Sea’s deck, she says fewer nets are lost each year in Puget Sound, which gives her hope.

“It’s one of the few really big problems that we can solve’” she says. “And we’re making a huge amount of progress.”

Photo credit: minicooper93402