Marine Debris: The Impacts and Effects of Derelict Fishing Gear

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

First Advisor

Charles G. Messing

Second Advisor

Richard E. Spieler


In the mid 1970’s, concern began to grow about the increasing volume of marine debris in the world’s oceans. This capstone review paper examines the environmental impacts, legislation, and current investigations of marine debris, especially derelict fishing gear, and outlines recommendations to alleviate this problem. Derelict fishing gear refers to any type of net, line, rope, trap, or buoy used in commercial fishing that has become lost or intentionally discarded. This category of marine debris may contribute significantly to the mortality of marine pinnipeds, sea turtles, seabirds, and fishes, which can become entangled or ingest the debris. Damage can also occur to coral reefs, and humans are potentially threatened via fouling to vessel propulsion systems and entanglement of divers. Thus, this paper examines in particular the environmental impact of derelict fishing gear on marine species, especially endangered or threatened animals, and on reefs. Does it affect commercial vessels and divers? Has the International Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the protocol of 1978 (MARPOL 73/78), had any effect on the amount of derelict fishing gear and marine species entanglements since the inception in 1989 of Annex V to MARPOL 73/78? Also, what legislation pertains to derelict fishing gear, and what additional legislation is being considered? An increased awareness of the problem is the first step toward developing solutions that will reduce the damage to a variety of marine environments caused by derelict fishing gear.

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