Increasing the Efficiency of Locating and Removing Ghost Nets in the Upper Great Lakes
Two people hauling a derelict net onto a boat.
A ghost net is removed from Lake Superior. (Photo Credit: Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission and WI Sea Grant)

The University of Wisconsin Sea Grant partnered with the NOAA Marine Debris Program and implemented an effective, on-the-ground derelict fishing gear removal program that improved the safety and quality of the Great Lakes.

Type of Project: Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant

Region: Great Lakes

Project Dates: July 2016 - June 2018

Who is involved?
The University of Wisconsin Sea Grant, with the support of a NOAA Marine Debris Program Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant, partnered with the Apostle Islands Sport Fishermen's Association and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission Law Enforcement team and develop a ghost net removal program to reduce this threat to the Lake Superior fishery.

What is the project and why is it important?
Challenges such as unpredictable and sudden changes in weather can cause commercial and subsistence fishing equipment to be lost on Lake Superior, even when properly weighted and buoyed. This derelict fishing gear (such as lost nets, or “ghost nets”) represent a hazard to unsuspecting sport fishermen who may encounter them. An exact picture of the size of the problem is difficult to identify, but anecdotal reports from sport and commercial fishermen indicate this is an ongoing problem in the Michigan and Wisconsin waters of Lake Superior. In addition to the safety risks, ghost nets can continue to entrap fish, other marine life, and even waterfowl.

In response to this emerging issue, project partners developed a ghost net removal program which reduced this threat to the Lake Superior fishery. Products of the project included a kit for anglers that describes the steps and provides the tools needed to mark suspected ghost nets. The kit also helped to connect anglers to resource officials and a net reporting website. By crowd-sourcing the detection of ghost nets using anglers, nets can be more efficiently located and marked for rapid removal. This project built on a previously-funded NOAA Marine Debris Prevention through Education and Outreach award.