British oceans campaigner killed in Ethiopia crash led fight against abandoned fishing nets

New rules on 'ghost gear' will be dedicated to UN worker Joanna Toole

Joanna Toole was one of the 157 people who died in a Ethiopian Airlines crash on Sunday. AP
Joanna Toole was one of the 157 people who died in a Ethiopian Airlines crash on Sunday. AP

A British victim of the Ethiopia Airlines crash had just secured an international agreement aimed at tackling the issue of abandoned fishing equipment at sea.

Joanna Toole, who worked for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, was a leading voice in the fight to better protect marine life.

The 36-year-old had long led a campaign for fishing nets and cages to be marked so owners could be traced if equipment was found to have been discarded.

The controversial issue has proved a significant concern in the UAE, where new laws have recently been introduced to help combat the problem.

Ms Toole's initiative had received global recognition and support, and was set to be announced just before she died.

“The guidelines, which she drew up and which have been agreed by all member states, are due to be printed in a few weeks’ time,” Manuel Barange, her director, told The Times in the UK. “They will now be dedicated to her.”

Ms Toole was among 157 people who died when the doomed Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed shortly after take off on Sunday.

Also killed were seven UN World Food Programme workers, including Michael Ryan, an Irishman who had worked on a series of humanitarian projects in Bangladesh and Nepal.

Ms Toole’s passion was centre stage in the UAE just last week, when the World Ocean Summit took place in Abu Dhabi.

The UAE has recently banned surface fishing nets in an effort to preserve marine life, including corals. Last week, the use of gargoor nets – a domed fishing cage traditionally used in the Gulf – had also been outlawed in Abu Dhabi waters.

Writing in 2016, Ms Toole warned that ‘ghost gear’ – discarded fishing equipment such as nets which can easily trap and kill marine wildlife – was responsible for a 10 per cent drop in fishing stocks globally.

She made the case for a new system of ensuring fishing equipment was assigned unique markings, so that owners could always be traced.

“As it stands, the majority of countries do not impose gear-marking requirements on their fisheries,” she wrote.

“This results in limited means of ensuring that gear owners take responsibility for any gear they lose, including taking appropriate actions to ensure it is retrieved.

“What we know is that the majority of fishermen do not want to lose their gear; it is expensive and can cause a loss in valuable fishing time.

“Bad weather and interactions with other fishing gear are common reasons for accidental gear loss.

“But in some cases fishermen deliberately dispose of their gear in the ocean to free up space on-board for their catch, to cut fuel costs, to avoid the costs involved in port disposal or because of a lack of port disposal facilities in the first place.

“Regardless of whether gear loss is deliberate or accidental, identifiable fishing gear is less likely to be deliberately discarded or abandoned, and can assist fishermen who wish to retrieve lost gear.”

In 2017, Ms Toole addressed the UN General Assembly about the issue, during a conference about oceans.

She was heading to Nairobi, Kenya, for the UN Environment Assembly when her flight plummeted six minutes after take off from Addis Ababa.

Her father, Adrian Toole, said Ms Toole was a "very soft and loving person" and described how as a small child she would try to save badgers from being run over near their home.

"Joanna was genuinely one of those people who you never heard a bad word about," he said.

"I'm very proud of what she achieved. It's just tragic that she couldn't carry on to further her career and achieve more.

"She was very well known in her own line of business and we've had many tributes already paid to her.”

Updated: March 13, 2019 01:51 PM


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