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Cleaning up end-of-life fishing gear

ACAP Humber Arm helps prevent more ghost gear impact

Greg Moore of ACAP Humber Arm sorts through old gear in Port aux Basques last Tuesday. — © René J. Roy / Wreckhouse Press Inc.

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

PORT AUX BASQUES — On Tuesday, Nov. 28, residents had the opportunity to dispose of old fishing gear they no longer needed, instead of having to dispose of it themselves at the waste management facility. After Hurricane Fiona, groups like Clean Harbours Initiative made their way to the Southwest Coast to clean up debris blown into the water. A large amount of ghost gear was also retrieved. Sheldon Peddle, Executive Director with ACAP Humber Arm, was on hand to help collect the gear being dropped off. “We were here in partner with Fisheries and Oceans Canada for (World) Oceans Day, did some activities with the schools. We also spent ten days here this summer doing at-sea retrievals of ghost gear. So a lot of items that may have been washed into the water during the storm last year, we’re going out, trying to retrieve as much of that as we could,” said Peddle. “So we spent ten days doing that and we’re here now today, just doing a collection day. So if folks had any used fishing gear, they no longer needed, end-of-life fishing gear quite typically, and understandably these things are stored then on your wharf or your slipway next to the water, so it’s not yet ghost gear, but the next big storm, they could be, and we realized there’s an inconvenience to getting rid of these things. There’s a cost sometimes if you have to try and get it to landfill, so we’re just doing a collection event today. People can drop it off free of cost, we take it away and instead of going to landfill, it all goes for recycling as well.” Ghost gear is abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear that makes its way into the water. According to the Government of Canada, the impacts on surrounding marine life can be extraordinary. “This marine pollution is some of the most harmful debris found in our oceans and can be fatal to fish, marine mammals and other marine life, poses a navigation hazard, and also breaks down into other forms of pollution such as micro-plastics. “The cause of ghost gear is primarily snagging, entanglement with other fishing gear, weather conditions and gear being incidentally cut by marine traffic crossing. Intentional discard by harvesters is less common and is usually caused by illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing where vessels may cut their gear loose to evade capture by authorities.” The following statistics have been recorded:

  1. Each year, more than eight million metric tons of plastic end up in the world’s oceans, and globally it is estimated that between 600,000 and 800,000 metric tonnes of ghost gear enter the oceans on an annual basis.

  2. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that ghost gear represents approximately 10 per cent of marine debris by volume.

  3. It is estimated that between 5 per cent to 30 per cent of harvestable fish are fished by ghost gear globally, posing a major threat to human health, livelihoods and global food security.

  4. Recent studies indicate ghost fishing gear makes up to 70 per cent of all macro-plastics in the ocean by weight. It can also degrade into microplastics in the environment.

  5. Ghost gear has been identified as a key source of marine litter in the Canadian Arctic, much of which originates offshore.

  6. Less than 10 per cent of plastic used in Canada is recycled. Without a change in course, Canadians will throw away an estimated $11 billion worth of plastic materials each year by 2030. “Canada has recognized the threat that ghost gear poses in our waters and around the world, and we have identified the issue as one of national importance. We are committed to taking concrete actions to support ghost gear prevention, retrieval and responsible disposal by collaborating with many groups, such as:

  7. Indigenous groups

  8. fish harvesters

  9. the aquaculture industry

  10. non-profit organizations

  11. Communities As of August 2023, the amount of ghost gear that has been retrieved across Canada is impressive.

  12. 2,222 at-sea, shoreline and aquaculture trips

  13. 24,308 units of gear retrieved (excludes rope)

  14. 593 km of rope retrieved

  15. A total of 1,910 tonnes retrieved including fishing gear and aquaculture debris (excludes rope and buoys) Reporting lost gear to Fisheries and Oceans Canada is mandatory for all commercial harvesters. “Lost gear reporting helps the Department and our partners locate and remove lost gear from Canadian waters and, in many cases, return the gear to its rightful owner. Lost gear reporting data also helps the Department to better target areas for ghost gear retrieval activities and find solutions to help prevent gear-loss in the future. “Lost gear reporting became mandatory in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 2018, and in all other areas in 2020. Fisheries and Oceans Canada is working with harvesters across the country to educate them on the new reporting requirements.” In Newfoundland and Labrador, between 2020 and 2023, there were 171 lost gear reports, which is 1.1 per cent of the national amount, and there were 2,631 gear units reported lost with 1,198 gear units retrieved. If a commercial harvester needs to report lost gear, they can use the fishing gear reporting system on the Fisheries and Oceans Canada website. “Logging lost gear helps the department:

  16. better target areas for ghost gear retrieval activities

  17. find solutions to help prevent gear loss in the future

  18. provide more accurate and timely data on areas where gear loss is most frequent

  19. identify the most common causes of gear loss.”

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