63 tonnes of ghost gear removed from Atlantic in 2020

About 63 tonnes of lost or discarded fishing gear was removed from coastal waters in Atlantic Canada in 2020.

Lost, abandoned and discarded fishing gear, or ‘ghost gear,’ is one of the largest causes of marine pollution today. Recent studies indicate that ghost fishing gear may make up 46 to 70 per cent of all macro-plastics in the ocean by weight.

In response to this growing issue, the Canadian government launched the Ghost Gear Fund in January 2020, supporting 26 projects to retrieve and reduce ghost gear in our oceans. These projects, along with others, have since removed 63 tonnes of gear, equivalent to the weight of 11 elephants.

The gear retrieved came from a combination of projects: the department of Fisheries and Ocean’s $8.3 million Ghost Gear Fund, self-funded third-party projects authorized by the department to collect gear, fishery officer patrols, and retrieved gear reports submitted by fish harvesters.

Lobster traps

The vast majority of the gear retrieved – approximately 86 per cent – was traps and pots commonly used in the lobster and crab fishing industries. The remaining 14 per cent was a combination of nets and longline from various fisheries. Just over 3,200 metres of rope was collected – the equivalent length of 32 football fields.

All gear retrieved to date has been in Atlantic Canada; several retrieval projects will start on the Pacific coast in early 2021.

Gear retrieval will resume in the Atlantic region, including in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, in the spring prior to the opening, and following the end of fishing seasons. In 2020:

  • 80 per cent of gear was retrieved from the Bay of Fundy and coastal waters off Nova Scotia;
  • 14 per cent came from the Gulf of St. Lawrence; and
  • six per cent was retrieved from coastal waters off Newfoundland.

Reuniting gear and owners

The Ghost Gear Program also works to reunite lost fishing gear with its owner, a process made possible through increased reporting requirements introduced by Fisheries and Oceans Canada in 2018. Over 100 pieces of marked gear have been claimed by harvesters through the program, and 25 pieces were relinquished by harvesters, allowing for them to be safety disposed of by the Department.

Gear retrieval is just one of four areas of activity supported by the Ghost Gear Fund. While it represents the bulk of the 26 projects funded until 2022, projects focusing on responsible disposal, acquisition and piloting of available technology, and international leadership also made headway in 2020:

  • A recycling depot specifically designed for end-of-life fishing gear was built in Ucluelet, British Columbia;
  • Smart buoy technology was tested in multiple locations in Nova Scotia; and
  • Several craft workshops using end-of-life fishing gear were hosted in Nigeria, creating economic opportunities for coastal communities.

The Ghost Gear Fund, first announced in July 2019, supports 26 projects, 22 in Canada and four internationally, working in at least one of the programs four pillars: gear retrieval, responsible disposal, acquisition and piloting of available technology, and international leadership. A request for proposals was launched in January 2020 and successful project recipients were announced in July 2020.

In June 2020, Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced that four Canadian small businesses will receive over $2 million in grants, through the Innovative Solutions Canada Program, to expand their innovative work to minimize plastics pollution by recycling fishing and aquaculture equipment, and by adapting and recycling abandoned fishing gear into useful biodegradable products.