In 2018, Thai Union Group joined the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) as part of its commitment to address the growing problem of marine plastic pollution. In the three years since, we’ve made some real progress, but recognize that there is still a lot more work to be done.
The scale of ocean plastics is, of course, immense, with some estimates that approximately 19-23 million tons of plastic enters the ocean every year. Of that, up to 70 percent by weight is estimated to be from abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear (ALDFG), or ‘ghost gear’. The impact of ghost gear is of significant concern – it washes up on beaches, severely impacts reef environments, poses a threat to navigation, negatively affects global fish stock levels and harms marine animals.
As one of the largest seafood companies in the world, we knew that we could use our position in the global industry to not just drive positive change but also encourage others to join us in working towards reducing the amount of ghost gear in our oceans. Our role in GGGI also aligns with SeaChange®, Thai Union’s global sustainability strategy, which includes commitments to combat marine plastic pollution.
After joining GGGI, Thai Union became the first company to publish an official work plan to pursue active change in this area. The plan focused on some key areas:
- Raising awareness of ghost gear through the Company’s networks and channels – this has included events such as the UN Day for the Ocean, Seafood Expo North America, the SeaWeb Seafood Sustainability Summit, and the Coordinating Body on the Seas of East Asia
- Integrating the issues of ALDFG and the GGGI Best Practice Framework into other Thai Union work programs such as the Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs)
- Understanding if there was something meaningful Thai Union could do in Thailand to address the impact of ghost gear on the environment
While the work plan was for an initial three years, it has now been revised and extended to become an ongoing program which will ensure our collaboration continues.
At Thai Union, we also supported the Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship Initiative (SeaBOS) in joining GGGI, an important step given SeaBOS represents 10 of the world’s largest seafood companies, who are all committed to sustainable seafood production and healthy oceans.
Thai Union acknowledges that there remains a lot of work to be done on the issue of ghost gear, but progress is being made. In 2019, an independent study by World Animal Protection identified Thai Union as among the top companies that had made the reduction of ghost gear integral to their business strategy.
Our CEO, Thiraphong Chansiri has also fully embraced the need to address the issue of ghost gear, and in 2019 participated in a dive in Thailand along with 40 other experienced divers to launch the #GhostGearReborn campaign on World Oceans Day.
Thailand has a large fishing industry and is one of the top 10 countries in terms of sources of plastic entering the ocean, and as such plays an important role in improving management practices for fishing gear and to prevent plastic pollution from entering the ocean. As part of this strategy, we worked with GGGI and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to develop a fisher survey we could use to understand gear loss rates and causes as well as current solutions for end-of-life gear in the Thai commercial fishing sector. This data can then be used to identify the key intervention points for future prevention and mitigation work in the region, and to explore developing a recycling solution for end-of-life fishing gear.
Another exciting element of our work plan with GGGI has been our support in expanding the FAD Watch program in the Indian Ocean. Here, the “Organización de Productores de Atún Congelado” (OPAGAC), and the Island Conservation Society (ICS) worked with the Seychelles Government to establish the FAD Watch program in the Indian Ocean to recover lost FADs and stop them from drifting into and beaching in sensitive coastal habitats. Thai Union has been supportive that the FIP in the Indian Ocean commit all 28 purse seine vessels to join FAD Watch and expand the current initiative to five islands identified by OPAGAC as most exposed to FAD beaching. Based on this success, Thai Union is hoping to start similar projects with other FIPs in the future.
“The GGGI is excited to see the progress that TU has made today across preventative, mitigative and remediating approaches to address ghost gear,” said Ingrid Giskes, Director, GGGI. “We urge other companies to follow suit and also develop a dedicated approach and work plan to address this important ocean threat.”
As we begin our fourth year as a participant in GGGI, we’re proud of the work we have done to date. But we’re also excited for what lays ahead and making even more progress as we, together with other GGGI partners, work together to make positive change in protecting our oceans.