Discarded fishing gear threatens Ganga dolphins, turtles

Researchers said the waste fishing gear could be recycled and used in clothes, carpets

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 26 November 2020
Ganga wildlife faces threat from entanglements in waste fishing gear: Study. Photo: Heather Koldewey
Fishing boats on the Ganga. Photo: Heather Koldewey Fishing boats on the Ganga. Photo: Heather Koldewey

Waste fishing gear in the Ganga posed a threat to the river’s wildlife including otters, turtles and dolphins, new research led by the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom showed.

Entanglement in fishing gear could harm species including the critically endangered three-striped roofed turtle and the endangered Ganges river dolphin, according to the study.

The researchers conducted surveys along the length of the Ganga and found that the levels of waste fishing gear were highest near to the sea.

Fishing nets — all made of plastic — were the most common type of gear found.


The scientists also found that a large number of fishing equipment was being discarded in the river, driven by short gear lifespans and lack of appropriate disposal systems.

The study, led by researchers from the University of Exeter, with an international team including researchers from India and Bangladesh, was conducted as part of the National Geographic Society’s Sea to Source: Ganges expedition.

“The Ganga supports some of the world’s largest inland fisheries, but no research has been done to assess plastic pollution from this industry and its impacts on wildlife,” Sarah Nelms, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, was quoted as saying in a press statement.

“Ingesting plastic can harm wildlife, but our threat assessment focussed on entanglement, which is known to injure and kill a wide range of marine species,” she added.

The researchers used a list of 21 river species of ‘conservation concern’ identified by the Wildlife Institute for India.

They combined existing information on entanglements of similar species worldwide with the new data on levels of waste fishing gear in the Ganga to estimate which species were most at risk.

Most fisherfolk the scientists interviewed said they discarded fishing equipment as there was no system to recycle them.

They also held the view that the river would clean itself. “So, one useful step would be to raise awareness of the real environmental impacts,” Nelms said.

The researchers also said the study’s findings offered hope for solutions based on ‘circular economy’ — where waste was dramatically reduced by reusing materials.

“A high proportion of the fishing gear we found was made of nylon 6, which is valuable and can be used to make products including carpets and clothing,” Heather Koldewey, professor at the university, National Geographic Fellow and science co-lead of the expedition, said.

“Collection and recycling of nylon 6 has strong potential as a solution because it would cut plastic pollution and provide an income,” she added.

Koldewey said the problem was complex and would require multiple solutions — all of which must work for both local communities and wildlife.

The paper, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, is entitled Riverine plastic pollution from fisheries: insights from the Ganges River system.

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