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Heriot-Watt University has launched new PhD research studying the impact of lost and discarded fishing gear on marine environments.

The three-and-a-half-year, fully funded research studentship will focus on the effects of discarded fishing apparatus on the seabed, also known as ‘Ghost Gear’.

Co-funded by Young’s Seafood and Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd and in collaboration with the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI), the research will involve two systematic reviews to help understand exactly how ghost-fishing impacts on the marine ecosystem. The study will also evaluate the effectiveness of interventions that reduce the likelihood of fishing gear being lost or discarded at sea.

Ghost gear is responsible for a huge amount of macroplastics in the ocean, it compromises yields and stocks in fisheries and can be a significant threat to food security.

Cameron Moffat, marine biologist at Young’s Seafood

Professor Michel Kaiser, Chief Scientist at Heriot-Watt and expert in Fisheries Conservation, said: “To date, most research on the impact of fishing on the seabed has focused on trawl fishing. However, many of the world’s fisheries use passive fishing gears such as gill nets and traps. Given their importance, policy makers currently need robust scientific advice on how passive fishing gear affects the marine environment.”

The PhD is being undertaken in collaboration with the GGGI - the world’s only global cross-sectoral alliance dedicated to solving the problem of ghost gear around the world, of which Young’s and Sainsbury’s are both long-standing members - estimates from 2009 suggest that least 640,000 - 800,000 tonnes of fishing gear enters the world’s oceans each year, harming fish stocks and livelihoods – but this number is thought to be significantly higher today.

Cameron Moffat, a marine biologist at Young’s Seafood, said: “Ghost gear is responsible for a huge amount of macroplastics in the ocean, it compromises yields and stocks in fisheries and can be a significant threat to food security. Young’s were an early supporter of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative and we’re now supporting this study to further help protect our seas and meet United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14 by significantly reducing marine pollution.”

Joel Baziuk, Deputy Director, Global Ghost Gear Initiative, said: “Ghost gear is one of the most harmful forms of marine debris, yet to date the extent of its effects on fish stocks, marine life and coastal economies is not yet fully understood. Research like this is critical to helping the global community understand the lasting impacts of lost fishing gear and make sound policy and fisheries management decisions based on emerging science. The GGGI is proud to support this study.”

The closing date for applications are September 25, 2019.       

To find out more or to apply visit here.