For years the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has warned of the dangers of ghost nets. Over the years we have pulled these deadly floating pieces of discarded and lost monofilament nets from the sea.
Our concern was vividly illustrated this week with a report from Port Salerno, Florida where over a thousand sharks and fish were found dead and rotting in a large abandoned 500 meter fishing net that was pulled from the ocean from a depth of 80 feet. Also found in the net was an endangered loggerhead turtle.
The mid-sized loggerhead turtle, bloated and dead for days, was measured and documented by biologists from the Florida Marine Research Institute and later taken to a laboratory in Tequesta to be preserved as evidence.
"We have an investigation under way (in) reference to that ghost net," said Jeff Radonski, a special agent with NOAA's fisheries enforcement division in Miami. "It's a crime scene just like anywhere else. We pick up clues and leads from that."
The net, made of thick fabric lines to catch coastal sharks, was first spotted last Friday off the coast of St. Lucie Inlet.
The "sheer weight of all the animals" kept the Coast Guard from retrieving the net last week, divers said.
The divers also videotaped the net and took photographs to be used as evidence. Then the dead sharks and fish were disposed about 12 miles offshore.
"You are responsible for the gear you set out there," Radonski said. "We could have Endangered Species Act violations, and that may elevate itself to criminal intent."
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has posted a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the owners of the vessel that discarded the net.
"It is this kind of gross irresponsibility that is causing the escalating decline in shark numbers and threatening the endangered loggerhead. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is committed to working with law enforcement agencies to prevent these violations and to punish those responsible of such wanton destruction of like in our oceans." Said Captain Paul Watson