Environmental & Cruiser Risks of Microplastics and Long Lines

Long lines, driftnets, ghostiest, and other illegal fishing techniques are the main source of microplastics pollution in the Pacific Ocean. Further these environmentally damaging fishing systems increase the percentage of by-catch, causing many millions of tons of fish to be discarded yearly.

Panama Posse participants are advised that Longlines along the Pacific Coast from Mexico to Panama create risk for your voyage. For this reason we have created this page https://panamaposse.com/longlines to help located longlines that can disable your vessel. Most countries have jurisdiction over the waters within 200 nautical miles of their shores, called the exclusive economic zone, set by the Law of the Sea, however enforcement is very limited.

What are Long Lines?

Long lines are an efficient and well administered, yet illegal, method of over-fishing practiced by commercial fisherman all over the world. The fishing technique uses a long main fishing line that extends sometimes dozens of miles. The line contains branch lines (snoods or gangions) which clips onto the main line. These branches of lines contain hooks for randomly catching fish that are in the area. Main line with its branches can contain as many as 3,000 hooks which target swordfish, tuna, halibut, sablefish and of valuable species. Longlines attached at the surface catch Tuna or Swordfish whereas those attached at the sea floor target ground fish such as halibut or groupers or cod.

Longline fishing is a prevalent form of commercial fishing and allows for massive fish yields. Longlines can be used near the surface (pelagic longlines) to catch open-water fish such as tuna and swordfish, or near the seafloor (demersal longlines) to catch bottom-dwelling fish such as cod or halibut. Longlines consist of a very long mainline (up to 60 miles long) that is set and dragged behind a boat. The mainline has thousands of attached branchlines, each containing baited hooks used to lure and capture target fish. An unfortunate consequence of the longline design is that it attracts and easily snags non-target marine life (known as bycatch). A wide range of animals such as sea turtles, sharks, seals, seabirds, and marine mammals can get caught on hooks or entangled in fishing line (Fig. 1). Interactions with longlines can cause non-target animals, many of which are endangered, to suffer injury and even mortality.

Longline DangerS

Longlining practices lead to the creation of Ghost Nets as the plastics degrade in the water. These nets were at one time made from hemp and other naturals substance however in recent decades they are made from microplastics that do not degrade. Storms, strong current, accidents, and purposeful discarding of these net-like lines create an extremely damaging.

Risk to SailorS

When a surface long line which may extend as many as 3 miles perpendicular from the shore is attached, it poses immediate risk to any boat traveling. Longlines can easily become trapped in a propeller and immobilize a vessel.

Risks to Environment

When a long lines gets loose or is degraded to the point where it is discarded, it will begin a journey that leads to catastrophic risk to the environment. Since these lines have hooks made of metal and plastic that does not biodegrade they will create hazards that damage marine life. These drifting lines lost or abandoned at sea due to storms causing strong currents, accidental loss, or purposeful discard become ghost nets. Synthetic nets are resistant to rot or breakdown, therefore ghost nets fish indefinitely in the oceans. Marine animals are easily tangled in ghost nets as are the predators the dead animals attract. The float line on the net allows it to be pushed in the current which causes ecological damage to plant life and substrate habitats as the nets drag the sea floor.[14]In addition, oceanic microplastics pollution is largely caused by plastic-made fishing gear like drift nets, that are wearing down by use, lost or thrown away.[15][16]

A recent study reported that “Fibers caused by long-lining were found to be the most common plastic particle in the open water. These tiny particles have been found to travel as far as 10 000 kilometers in the Pacific Ocean and have reached even the most remote areas such as Galapagos Islands, polluting its pristine waters and rich wildlife.

It is estimated surface area of 1.6 million square kilometers, an area twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France.
This is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – it is known that 75% TO 86% OF these PLASTICS COMES FROM FISHING ACTIVITIES

Below YOU will find the panama posse live update of long line reporting along the pacific coast.







 After un-charted rocks and lightning, the thing that sends shivers up my spine is the thought of long lines. We have seen many, hit 4 or 5 and had to dive on the prop 3 times to cut loose/unwrap them from the shaft. Unfortunately the marking standard for these nuisances seems to vary from country to country. What we learned in one country caused us to hit lines in another country. For instance in Mexico we would run parallel to the long precession of spaced flags and do an end run around the last. When we tried this maneuver in Costa Rica we consistently hit the lines because in that country, it turns out, many of the fisherman only mark the middle of the line with a black flag. There are no end markers. Through our encounters with the lines and with one with a fisherman whose long line we had to cut off the prop we think we have learned a few things about these obstacles that we believe is worth sharing. I am sure there are other variations and not all fisherman follow these unwritten standards but it is at least a documentation of what we have experienced.

Mexico Long Line Observation
The long lines in Mexico were anywhere from ½ mile long to 4 miles long but seemed to be pretty consistently marked in the below manner. We did not encounter any at night. We do not know if this was dumb luck or if they were pulled in before nightfall. Perhaps someone else has more insight.

Mexican Longlines

Black Flags at various intervals up to several hundred yards apart. Last flag indicates end of line.
Intermediate floats: water bottles, milk juts, oil bottles, fishing floats etc. between flags.

Guatemala Long Line Observation
The long lines in were poorly marked and the black flags at each end not always easy to see. Any time we saw a floating plastic bottle ahead we approached with caution and a string of them indicated the presence of a line. Like Mexico, we did not encounter any at night. We averaged about 15 miles off-shore as we passed Guatemala.

Guatemala Longlines

Black Flag at both ends of line.

Intermediate floats: water bottles, milk juts, oil bottles, fishing floats etc. between flags. Spacing between floats was inconsistent with sometimes large spacings

Nicaragua Observations
We did not encounter any long lines off the coast of Nicaragua, however we encountered many fishing pangas both during the daytime and at night. They seemed to work in groups and I do not know what type of fishing equipment they were using. We passed well outside the mouth of the gulf of Fonseca , so perhaps there were longlines there; we do not know.


note: Here is a long-line marker off the coast of Nicaragua

Costa Rica Long Line Observation#1
The long lines were marked in the middle with a single black flag and typically extended 1 kilometer in each direction from the flag (according to a fisherman whose line we ran over and tangled in our prop.) and there may or may not be a panga on station at one end of the line. We encountered quite a few lines, particularly outside the mouth of the Gulf of Nicoya. We day-hopped between anchorages in CR so we do not know if they are out at night.

CR 2

Black Flag at center of 2 km long line.
Floats: water bottles, milk juts, oil bottles, fishing floats etc. with perhaps 40 to 50 meters between floats. The last float will be about 1 km from the flag. Watch out for a string of floats cut off from the main flag by another passing boat.

Costa Rica Observation#2
This line is only a couple of hundred meters long and drifts parallel to the wind. It usually has a large black flag and small black flag on a float on the downwind side and a small float on the upwind side. Usually a panga is on station at some point along the line. We are not sure if this is a net or line. This was only encountered in bays and close to shore

CR 2

Large black flag and small black flag a few meters away.
Floats: no observed intermediate floats; just the down-wind flag and an upwind float, mostly with a panga on station.

Costa Rica Observation#3
This line is only perhaps a hundred meters long and seems designed to drift perpendicular to the wind. It usually has a black or some other colored flag at each end and single float ½-way between. We do not know if this is a long-line or net. This was only encountered in bays and close to islands and shores.

CR 3

Black Flag on each end of line Floats: One intermediate float between flags.


if you are sailing and not using engines – simply check your boat speed and look aft to see if a tell tale V comes to the surface – if you see a V and your vessel is slowing down attach a sharp kitchen knife to your boat hook (with 2 hose clamps ) and cut the line and continue on – on larger keels or bulb shaped keels it may be difficult to see if you are free so watching your boat speed is key here – if the line is wrapped around your keel you can carefully reverse or jump in and cut the line to free yourself.

If this happens at night all bets are off as your ability to see if you snagged the line is greatly diminished. A drastic decrease in boat speed is usually a  good indication.
A waterproof flashlight can sometimes be lowered aft so you can try to see the line.
Proceed with caution – wake up the crew – and formulate and talk through the process of freeing your vessel.

if you are under power  using engines –  and you see the line in time – place your engines in neutral and coast over the long line ( if you have folding props fold them to reduce the chances of snagging the line )
simply check your boat speed and look aft to see if a tell tale V comes to the surface – if not you are free


– if you see a V and your vessel is slowing down attach a sharp kitchen knife to your boat hook (with 2 hose clamps ) and cut the line and continue on as soon as the v slips away – let the current wind drift you out of the location and continue on

– if the line has wrapped around your prop you are going to have to inspect the level of damage first – stop the engine and use a sharp knife to cut off the wrapped line –
with sail drives there is a possibility that the line has entered into the seal area and the line is keeping your oil from gushing out – if you are on a cat use the spare engine – watch your sail drive oil level like a hawk after the incident

– consider adding prop protecting line cutters in the future