Fifty-seven crabs

Coinciding with World Oceans Day June 8th, The Ghost Fishing UK Team assembled in Plymouth to respond to a report of a lost gill net around the busy dive spot of Hillsea Point.

The team was formed from veteran volunteers and newly trained divers fresh from May’s Ghost Fishing UK course. Starting bright and early the team set out to try find the net. Luckily the report submitted by the local BSAC club had marks, however the net was still tricky to locate. Two survey teams entered the water trying to find the net based off the report. Survey team 1 were unsuccessful; survey team 2 hit it, providing a detailed survey ready for forming a plan when back topside.

The survey revealed the net was extremely long, monofilament in nature and infested with spider crabs. Spider crabs may not be as cute to look at, however a large mass of bait could lead to entrapment of other animals and Plymouth is home to pods of dolphins, porpoises and commercial fisheries. This is where the extrapolating data post retrieval is of the utmost importance.

Cetaceans such as harbour porpoises are attracted to nets
by dead and dying animals which have been caught in them. Image: Bobby Combellack

The retrieval team entered the water, after a few attempts to free the animals in situ the decision was made to lift the net to the surface and leave the animals entangled for the surface team on the boat to free. This plan worked incredibly well, lift bag after lift bag breached the surface as the team worked against the clock.

Images: Christine Grosart

The volunteers on the boat hauled bag after bag onto the boat deck and freed the animals, collecting data to see how many were caught by this one discarded net, plus any other life the net caught. Eventually instead of a lift bag at the surface it was an SMB and the retrieval team were on their way up. 100 % successful in their task, the net fully cleared.

Fifty-seven spiny spider crabs (Maja squinado) were rescued from a prolonged and unpleasant death after being hopelessly trapped in this long and abandoned gill net. A crab pot was also recovered as it had been long lost and continued to catch marine life such as this edible crab (Cancer pagurus). Douglas Allen (left) of Aquanauts dive centre. An experienced and willing skipper is crucial to this type of work.

It was a great success, fifty-seven crabs freed to live another day and a huge net cleared from the ocean. Proving the Ghost Fishing UK system works; veterans training new divers and team work.

The whole day was captured by Sophie Devereau and her cameraman, William Heynen.

With thanks to all the divers involved that day – well done team!

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