Nets. Photo: Plastix A/S.

Nine recommendations to limit ghost nets in the sea

Friday 15 May 20


Finn Larsen
Senior Researcher
DTU Aqua
+45 35 88 34 96

What is ghost fishing?

For months or years, lost fishing gear can continue to catch fish and crustaceans to no avail. This is called ghost fishing. In addition, marine mammals and diving birds risk becoming trapped, thus drowning in fishing gear that floats around or lies on the seabed.

About Clean Nordic Oceans

Clean Nordic Oceans was a project and knowledge network established through the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2017. The network was led by the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries in cooperation with the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management and DTU Aqua in Denmark.

The aim was to gather and disseminate knowledge across the Nordic countries in order to reduce the risk of ghost fishing and marine pollution due to recreational and commercial fishing—as well as to increase the recycling of end-of-life fishing gear.

The project has been completed, but the parties are currently working to establish the network in new forms.

Read more about Clean Nordic Oceans at

Nordic network makes recommendations on how to limit ghost fishing and pollution of the sea due to lost fishing gear.

Raise awareness of the consequences of lost fishing gear. Mark fishing gear so the owner can always be identified. And remove lost fishing gear from the sea.

These and six other recommendations are the result of the work of the Nordic knowledge and dissemination network Clean Nordic Oceans, which DTU Aqua has participated in the management of. The aim of the recommendations is to reduce the risk of ghost fishing and pollution with—among other things—microplastics when the lost fishing gear breaks down in the ocean. Ghost fishing is the term for lost fishing gear that lies in the sea and continues fishing to no avail.

Raising awareness of consequences

While the recommendations of Clean Nordic Oceans are generally aimed at environmental and fisheries administrations in the Nordics, key focus areas may vary from country to country. Senior Researcher Finn Larsen, DTU Aqua, has helped to prepare the recommendations. He points to raising awareness among fishermen and the marking and removal of fishing gear as the most important recommendations in Denmark.

"A greater awareness of the consequences of lost fishing gear is crucial—both among commercial fishermen and among recreational fishermen who fish with gillnets, fishing pots, or fish traps. It is important for fishermen to take responsibility for all waste being returned to shore and not left in the sea," says Senior Researcher Finn Larsen, DTU Aqua.

Finn Larsen believes that better marking of fishing gear can also contribute to raising awareness and promoting a sense of responsibility.

"As things stand, fishing gear is marked in one or two places, so the owner can be identified if the authorities find the entire piece of equipment. But you can’t go back to the owner if the fishing gear is torn apart and you only find part of it," he explains.

Currently there are no methods to mark the entire fishing gear, but an international group within the FAO is working to find solutions to this problem.

Removing ghost nets

Today there is no systematic removal of lost fishing gear in Danish waters, but according to Finn Larsen, this should be addressed.

"We and others have seen that there is a lot of lost fishing gear out there, and in Norway the authorities go on annual expeditions to remove lost gear. They collect hundreds of nets and many kilometres of line and ropes every year," says Finn Larsen.

DTU Aqua is currently working on a project for the Danish Fisheries Agency to determine how many ghost nets are located in Danish waters and what it will take to remove them.

The Clean Nordic Oceans’ recommendations are based on the knowledge that it has collected through networking and from experts at workshops and conferences.

Nine recommendations from Clean Nordic Oceans—in brief


  • Raise awareness of the consequences of lost fishing gear.
  • Assess whether the national regulations have the intended effect.

At sea

  • Better visibility of the position of gear in order to reduce gear collisions, etc.
  • Mark fishing gear to increase the responsibility for reporting in the event of loss of gear.
  • Increase the skills of recreational fishermen in the use of gillnets, fish pots, and fish traps, and improve procedures and attitudes of commercial fishermen towards residual waste when working on gear.
  • Establish a single tool for the reporting of lost gear.
  • Remove lost gear.

On land

  • Facilitate solutions that allow recovered and scrapped fishing gear to be delivered in fishing ports.
  • Ensure the development of solutions that can help reduce plastic components in fishing gear and increase the use of degradable solutions and product compositions that are easier to recycle.


See the full text of the recommendations in the Clean Nordic Oceans’ Policy Brief

Read about the background to the recommendations in Clean Nordic Oceans’ main report