My weekend with Ghost Fishing UK

Two divers practice cutting ropeDivers practice cutting rope. Image: Marcus Rose

Ghost Fishing UK was initiated in 2015 with an inaugural project in Scapa Flow, Orkney. Six British divers were joined by a Ghost Fishing Foundation team, and became the core of new British chapter. During a week of diving 65 lost creels, 1000 kg of fishing net, and more than a kilometre of rope was recovered.

Fast forward to January 2019…time to go and experience this for myself!

Having devoured all the information on the Ghost Fishing UK website I elected to join the ‘get to know us’ Winter Warmer being held at NDAC on the 5th and 6th January 2019.

“Join the Ghost Fishing UK team for a weekend of diving and socials.

  • ‘Try ghost fishing’ workshops;
  • Guest speakers, Q&A forum;
  • Video screenings;
  • Half price diving entry to NDAC;
  • Saturday social: hog roast & BBQ (vegetarian options available); and
  • Bar, raffle, auction, competitions and fundraisers.”

Before I knew it, the Winter Warmer weekend was upon me, so it was time to get packing and make my way to Chepstow.

Starting out
06:30 – Time to get up and start my journey from Milton Keynes to Chepstow!
08:15 – Arriving at NDAC the carpark was already buzzing! The Ghost Fishing UK team had been there since Friday morning preparing the stations that would be used over the weekend.
08:20 – Cup of tea;
08:30 – Cup of tea;
08:45 – Cup of tea;
08:55 – Toilet stop; too much tea!
09:00 – Twinset dropped into the filling station for a 32% fill, and then off for a cup of tea in the fantastic cafe.
10:00 – Briefing time!

As we all sat down for the briefing in the marquee, it struck me on how well attended the event was. There must have been some 70-80 divers for the Saturday sessions alone.

Christine Grosart, the event organiser, took the mic to give us the rundown of the days’ events. We would be split into two groups, morning and afternoon divers. Each group would have an instructor assigned plus two event attendees. I was to join Sue, who I’d not met before, and my instructor was Christine. The day was packed with the ghost gear dive, mat making by Skype, presentations on marine issues and kit fettling sessions (ably run by GUE instructor intern, Joe Robinson) for those that needed that little bit of extra help or just had questions.

Christine covered the in water stations that had been created:

  1. Line cutting;
  2. Surveying;
  3. Lifting demonstration; and
  4. Debrief.

A safety brief was given on each station, especially about the use of the extremely sharp knives that were going to be used that day…and they were sharp!

We then moved onto survey techniques and data gathering. It is amazing just how much information you can gather about a ghost net…and the more information you do collect in the survey, the better planning that can be done to retrieve it.

It was then time for the morning divers to get ready. I had been assigned the afternoon group, which was both good and bad. Good in that I could relax, have a cuppa and chill; bad as it did mean a bit of a wait around, although there were activities to keep me busy if I wanted to join in. I have to say, I chose a cup of tea and a snooze!

Time to dive!
14:00 – Meeting at the marquee and then over to the kit benches for gas analysis, cylinder marking and to discuss why this is so important and how it relates to the approach that Ghost Fishing UK takes when dive planning for surveys and recovery.
14:30 – Let’s go diving!
15:00 – After another quick waterside chat to remind us of the in-water tasks, we were off! The visibility at Chepstow was perfect for the tasks ahead.

    • Station one – line cutting
      Here Christine handed over a very large and sharp knife and gave us the task of taking samples from the different ropes, string and netting that had been attached to the training station. Once cut, Sue, my dive buddy bagged the bits, which was easier said than done.It was here that I found out how sharp the knives really were. They would cut just about any of the rope without hesitation. I am pretty sure that if you slipped you would take off an arm or leg without much fuss, and only know that you had done so because your drysuit would start flooding as your limb gently floated away from you!

      Once I had given everything a good slicing it was time to hand over to Sue so she could have a go. As soon as she got hold of the knife she went to work on the rope with such enthusiasm that everyone around her instantly mastered the art of back fining! Now I call her “Sue the Blade”!

Two divers survey a mocked-up ghost netTwo divers survey a mocked-up ghost net. Image: Jamie Hall

    • Station two – surveying
      Here we had a large piece of net causing an obstruction and ‘catching’ marine life. In this case it was a lot of laminated pictures of animals to give an idea of what you may come across. Now, this all sounds very easy, but, when you start to task-load some of the basics can go a little, well shall we say, a little awry! Now this was not a ‘how good are you as a diver’ event but it did show that a certain level of skill is needed. What these guys do is dangerous work and no one wants to injure themselves or their dive buddies.So using our wet notes we started sketching the fishing gear presented to us. Underwater as I was drawing my diagram, taking notes etc, it looked an absolute masterpiece. I have to admit I was quite impressed with myself and felt quite pleased with the result. Once we felt the survey was complete, we used our newly found cutting skills and remove a sample of the net.

      With trepidation I handed the knife over to ‘Sue the Blade’, this time managing to retreat a safe distance before the blade of fury was unleashed. Within an instant Sue had all the plastic fish and marine life cut free from the net and had removed some of the weights holding the net in place. Not quite what Christine expected but you could not fault Sue’s enthusiasm! Some 15 minutes later when Christine had repaired the station for the next group, she wrestled the knife from Sue and we made our way over to the next station.

    • Station three – lifting demonstration
      Once we had done an effective survey, cut the line, net or pots free it was time to lift it all to the surface. The lifting station was an instructor led demonstration. I think this was wise and the safest decision. Even though the station was only at 6 metres, the last thing needed was for someone not familiar or trained in using a lift bag to be dragged to the surface with their lungs coming out of their nose!We took up our positions so we could see what was about to happen and watched Christine do a perfect lift demonstration on a pesky lobster pot. Christine gently added air to the lift bag, never rushing, until the lift bag was neutrally buoyant. A good check was then done of the surrounding area to make sure there was no chance of getting snagged by loose rope etc. Once she was confident that all was in order, Christine gently added air to the lift bag until it started to rise. She then moved back a safe distance and let physics do the rest. All very impressive.

      Demonstration over it was time to head back to shore. We practiced ascending as a team, making sure we were all in reaching distance of each other; another skill that Ghost Fishing UK wants you to embrace and a skill well worth working towards.

Ghost gear lifting demonstration. Image: Chris Hawes

  • Station four – debrief
    Back on the surface we bobbed in the water and had an informal chat about how we felt the session had gone. We discussed each station and the how we think we did, how we actually did and how we could have tackled it in a slightly different way to make things a bit easier. Then it was time to get out of the water as it was getting a bit chilly!

“We were surrounded at the weekend by motivated and inspiring divers who just want to use their diving skills to clean up the ocean of deadly ghost gear. It was a pleasure to jump into the water with divers I had never even met and show them a taster of what we do to clear up ghost nets. The smiles on their faces after their dives said it all,” said Christine Grosart, Ghost Fishing UK instructor, and Winter Warmer organiser.

Sat on the pontoons I was keen to show the Leonardo-esque sketch I had made of the net, so out came the wet notes. It was at this point that I had discovered that I must have put back someone else’s wet notes into my pocket. The diagram that I had in front of me had clearly been drawn by a silver back gorilla using crayons, not the fine, almost professional sketch that I had done underwater!

End of the day
The evening buffet was fantastic and very generous. I don’t think I saw anyone manage to eat the beast of a pulled pork roll that was provided. Once everyone had been fed we went onto some great talks by Fourth Element, Seasearch and Rolex Scholar, Mae Dorricott. At the end of the evening a raffle was drawn and there were a lot of very happy people with some fabulous prizes.

“The weekend was a brilliant taster of what the ghost fishing team get up to, and has left me buzzing to complete the course and to get stuck in as a part of the effort. It’s such a privilege to be a diver and explore the underwater world. To be able to use that skill to make a small, but significant difference, is what it’s all about.” said Mae Dorricott, marine biologist and speaker at the Winter Warmer

There has to be a special mention for the NDAC staff who were there to sort out all your diving needs, drinks and food throughout the day. The site keeps getting better each time I visit!

All in all I thought the weekend was a real success. It was an excellent taster of what Ghost Fishing UK is all about. There was plenty to do between the in-water activities. It was well run, relaxed and enjoyable at the same time. The Ghost Fishing UK team are all extremely friendly, and did not care about what agency you had learned to dive with – so a nice breath of fresh air on that front.

So would I recommend going to a Ghost Fishing UK event? Yes! I has a great time, met some great people and come away with a brilliant insight into the Ghost Fishing UK initiative.

2 thoughts on “My weekend with Ghost Fishing UK

  1. Steve Stokes Reply

    This is fantastic! I don’t dive but would volunteer in other ways if needed.

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