Tackling Ghost Nets in Lake Superior
A ghost net is pulled onto a boat in Lake Superior.
A ghost net is pulled onto a boat in Lake Superior. Credit: Dan North

University of Wisconsin Sea Grant and the NOAA Marine Debris Program partnered up to educate fishers about ghost nets in Lake Superior.

What’s the project?

Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes, has a ghost net problem. Storms, wind, shifting ice, and waves can cause fishers to lose gill nets, a type of durable net commonly used in the Lake Superior fishery. Once the lines are cut, the nets continue to drift beneath the water’s surface for years, impacting both the fishery and fishermen.

Ghost nets can continue to indiscriminately catch fish, including Lake Superior’s ciscoes, whitefish, and trout. Recreational anglers and boaters are also at risk from having their propellers or fishing gear fouled by drifting ghost nets, which can be a safety hazard or cause costly damage to vessels. In some cases, sport fishermen may not know what to do if they become entangled.

In order to address this ongoing issue, University of Wisconsin Sea Grant and marine debris stakeholders in Wisconsin formed a partnership to develop an education and outreach plan to prevent gill net loss and reduce this threat to the Lake Superior fishery.

What does it accomplish?

The project team is holding workshops for commercial and tribal fishers, as well as the public, to encourage changes in behavior that prevent marine debris from entering the marine environment. Participants will receive best practices and other tools for preventing fishing net loss, which will help reduce the number of ghost nets in the lake and the amount of harmful bycatch from the nets.

This effort is also educating the group that is most likely to encounter commercial and ghost nets – recreational anglers. Wisconsin Sea Grant is producing videos that highlight potential hazards to anglers from commercial gill nets and provide tips on how to avoid them or free tangled equipment. The project leads will offer a web portal for outreach materials and videos, as well as instructions for reporting potential derelict fishing gear. Educational signage at docks will help anglers identify and avoid fishing gear.

Watch: Avoid the Trap: What Anglers Should Know about Commercial Fishing Nets

Who’s involved?

University of Wisconsin Sea Grant is partnering with the NOAA Marine Debris Program, the Apostle Islands Sport Fishermen's Association, and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission Law Enforcement on this project, as part of NOAA’s Marine Debris Prevention through Education and Outreach grant.

What’s something unique about this project?

This project will facilitate cooperation between commercial, tribal, and sport fishers, as well as other stakeholders who depend on the lake for subsistence and recreation.