Cleaning the reef one hook at a time.

In December, snorkeling along the reef ledge at Gericke’s Point, the clumps of snagged fishing tackle struck a discord. 

Discovering snagged fishing line on the reef.

In an instant, instead of searching for seasonal tropical fish that arrive on the warm Mozambican current in November, I was interested in quantifying the amount of snagged fishing tackle on the reef and determining how much it was contributing to ghost fishing. 

In most references, ghost fishing is associated with lost trawl nets and long lines, very rarely with recreational shore fishing. Yet, before my eyes, masses of thin lines snaked across the reef, sninkers caught in rocks and fish hooks in various states of decay glinting in the sunlight.

Gericke’s Point has spectacular enclosed tidal pools and open sea reefs ideal for snorkeling and free diving.

Gericke’s Point is a popular fishing lication in the Garden Route of South Africa. Situated approximately 4km west of the coastal village of Sedgefield, it’s official name is Lion Rock, a reference to its sphinx like profile when viewed from the Swartvlei beach parking area. It’s more common name was aquired in the 1960’s after the surname of a local land surveyor, Mr Gericke, who boasted of his fishing catches from the peninsula. 

Since then, like many other popular shore fishing locations in the Garden Route, it has a regular stream of anglers and fisherman trying their luck. 

The idea of free diving to clear the snagged fishing tackle and line from the surrounding reef was primarily to clean the reef from an aesthetic perspective. 

Volunteer breifing before free diving off Gericke’s Point.

Our first dive was in poor viz conditions.  We had 13 volunteers and we dived along about 90m of reef.

The volunteers with the haul of snagged fishing tackle at Gericke’s Point.

Despite the conditions a mass of fishing line, 7kg of sinkers and numerous hooks were collected. Though no snagged fish were found, the potential of it occouring seemed very real.

We posted our collection on Facebook which resulted in three accounts of ghost fishing being conveyed to us, two accounts from Gericke’s Point and one from the Knysna Lagoon. Ghost fishing from recreational shore fishing was a reality after all.

The volunteers kiting up on the NSRI slipway to swim out to the Paquita Wreck.

Inspired by our successful collection of snagged fishing tackle from a portion of Gericke’s Point, we planned for a second clean up in the Knysna Estuary.  The Paquita Wreck site was chosen both because it is a popular free diving and SCUBA diving site and because it is a popular fishing site for shore based fisherman. The distinction of the majority of fisherman at this site is that they are from the lower socio economic demographic. As such, their fishing equipment is less sophisticated and the hook and sinker set up is smaller as they target smaller fish which was reflected in the tackle dived out.

Discussions on the dive conditions.

In addition to the distinction of smaller hooks recovered there was a notable distinction of how the tackle was snagged compared to Gericke’s Point. The reef at the Paquita Wreck in widely covered with Red Bait (Pyura stolonifera) aggregates and most of the snagged tackle had the hooks embedded in the Red Bait. Unfortunately conditions deteriorated rapidly due to gale force winds and only a small amount of tackle was recovered.

A second dive at Gericke’s Point was arranged, though only three volunteers, Lisa, Ryan and Mark, could attend. But this was to prove to be an interesting dive. Conditions were near perfect, calm winds, sunny and zero swell with 2m viz.

One of the many clumps of snagged fishing line along the reef.

From our point of entry we picked up the first series of snagged fishing line. In fact, it was just a mass of criss crossing lines totalling over 100m.

Like lazer beams 4 lines converged on one rock, below which a mass of sinkers littered the seabed.

We dived along approximately 80m of reef front in depths ranging from 1.8m to 3.5m.

The pyjama shark was on a rusted hook, indicating that the line had been snagged for some time prior to the shark being caught.

Lisa found two hooked fish, one a Sea Barbel and the second one a pyjama shark. The sea barbel had recently died while the shark was in a state of decay. 

Removing the hook from the shark, it was obvious from the rusting that it was a hook that has been snagged for some time and we could only wonder how many other fish had met the same fate on the same hook prior to the shark.

That is the reality of ghost fishing, long after the hook is snagged it still attracts fish and catches them. They die, get fed on by other fish which in turn gets caught by the hook. Research indicates that a snagged hook has the potential to catch up to 10 fish.

One of the rocks that had a mass of sinkers snagged at its base.

The collection of sinkers and hooks seperated from the line.

In all we collected over a kilogram of line and 68 weights. This represents a few meters of line per meter of reef dived and one sinker per 1.2m of reef and can translate to about 1 hook per meter of reef dived.

Not only is this a hazard for marine life, but is approaching littering of the reef.

Looking to continue this program as a citizen science project, we will extend our clean up sites to Plettenberg Bay and Mossel Bay. 

For more details or to offer assistance  contact Mark Dixon by email at walk@gardenroutetrail.co.za.

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