‘Ghost’ fishing provides food ‒ but only for thought
Oh, horrors: the Eve of all Hallows is upon us! Having its origins in the Celtic traditions of Samhain and a general understanding that as the days shortened and winter chills started to set in, the separation between their world and the afterlife was at its closest, allowing spirits from the afterlife to slip back into the human world. As Christianity took hold of their world, the feast of All Saints (or All Hallows) coincided with this ancient belief, adding to the mystique of spirits — both good and evil and ghosts.
As is well accepted by modern cultures, there are no such things as ghosts, but this is by no means universal and even in the piscatorial world, there very definitely are ghosts.
Do not dismiss this lightly! Every international fisheries body is beset with the issue of IUU fishing. Formally known as Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing, this is often referred to as ghost fishing and involves ghost fishing fleets. The name really suits as well, for these fishing fleets have very little in the way of regulation, often fish under multiple or no flags at all, and pretty much do as they please. They do not report their catches to any organisation, fish wherever they can without being caught, and very few ever are. These are sometimes referred to as “ghost fleets” — they are not claimed by any country and are often involved in another nefarious enterprise, namely slavery. Yes, modern-day slavery ranging from luring unsuspecting young men looking for work on to the boats with false promises to downright press ganging or shanghaiing people. This has now been identified as a growing problem, particularly in Asian countries.
Then there is the matter of lost fishing gear. Just because the fishermen or fishing fleet have lost some of their gear does not necessarily mean that the gear stops fishing. As a simple example, just about every local fisherman has lost a fish pot (olden days) or lobster pot (even now) which probably will never be recovered. This can be the result of bad luck, heavy weather, human error or, occasionally, larceny. Obviously, fishermen do not want to lose their gear, as it represents a significant investment and would have the potential to make a substantial amount of money for them. But things do happen and the gear is lost.
Just because such fishing gear, and this includes nets, longlines and other apparatus, can no longer be accounted for does not mean that they stop fishing. Some such gear can go on fishing and killing fish for years or even decades. The usual name for this is “ghost” fishing. There is no way of telling just how much of this gear is out there in the world’s oceans and just how effective it is; hence, there is no idea how many fish are lost each year. It is impossible to quantify the impact of this on fish populations. It can also prove harmful to marine mammal and turtle populations who can become entangled in such equipment and drown. For every case that is brought to the public’s attention by the media, there are probably multiple instances of fatal interactions. Again, impossible to quantify.
Hallowe’en notwithstanding, the foregoing should be scary and provide food for thought. While most anglers do not really fit into the culprit’s profile, it should be a reminder to take a little more care when leaving everything from used line to fouled anchors on the bottom or elsewhere in the ocean.
Now, if that is not scary enough, the offshore fishing is but a shadow of its former self. Action has eased pretty much across the board. It doesn’t help that the commercial fishery is now splitting traditional hook and line effort with the lobster traps, thus reducing the amount of information readily available. Of course, the sportfishing effort has petered away to almost nothing as the weather deteriorates and the inability to be able to plan an excursion with reasonable certainty is no longer an option.
As always, there will be a few wahoo around that will provide a target throughout the winter months. While the level of activity will probably be low, there will be occasions when, out of nowhere, there will be a burst of action that will resemble the high season. These will be few and far between, but they will happen to those who are in the right place at the right time.
More reliable at this juncture is the bottom. The Banks are the easiest place to practise this because it is usually possible to establish a drift that will move the boat over the bottom, providing a new venue every minute or so. Happening upon a vein of fish will have coneys and hinds latching on to the lines. A variety of other species will please as well. Over the deeper-reef areas along Bermuda’s Edge, barbers are often abundant and welcome. Increase the chances of a good haul by using circle hooks and some form of tough bait like squid or, even better, octopus.
With any luck, an effort to work the bottom should provide a ready supply of white-fish fillet and a bit of action. Use suitable gear over the deeper-reef areas and, before you can say “Boo”, you should have some Tight Lines!!!