A blend of conservation groups and professional fishing organizations will share in a $8.3-million federal fund to help rid the coastal waters of so-called ghost gear, lost or abandoned equipment considered to be the world’s largest contributor to marine litter.
Ghost gear accounts for up to 70 per cent of all macro-plastics in the ocean by weight, posing dangers to whales and turtles, the coastal environment and global fishing stocks.
To combat the problem Fisheries and Oceans Canada opened the Sustainable Fisheries Solutions and Retrieval Support Contribution Program, or Ghost Gear Fund, last February and on Wednesday (July 8) released a list of the 26 project recipients, including three on the North Coast.
“The overwhelming interest in the Ghost Gear Fund demonstrates that Canadians share this priority and want to be a part of the solution,” Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan said in a statement.
“The recipients of the fund will make a significant difference domestically, and internationally, as they remove ghost fishing gear from the oceans, recycle or dispose of it responsibly. Most importantly, they are creating tangible solutions to help prevent more plastic from entering our waters in the future.”
The fund will go to 22 projects in Canada, including 10 provincially, and four projects internationally over the next two years.
Each project falls into at least one category of gear retrieval, responsible disposal, acquisition and piloting of available gear technology, or international leadership.
In the north, Ecotrust Canada is leading a project with the Area A Crab Association to coordinate enhanced gear recovery efforts in the Hecate Strait through an electronic monitoring system. Each year the Area A fleet funds and conducts its own crab trap recovery during the seasonal closure, but for the two-year project survey an additional vessel, or an additional trip, will be used to target stray gear and explore the economic impacts of gear loss to harvesters.
The survey will also give researchers a better understanding of how much crab resource is lost to abandoned traps.
“For the past nine years, Ecotrust Canada has been working with fish harvesters on the North Coast to improve fisheries monitoring, observing, and data collection. Through [this] project we will continue to find ways to build a more sustainable and economically viable fishery,” Racheal Weymer, fisheries director at Ecotrust Canada said.
Natural Resources Consultants is leading two projects with a singular goal in the Hecate Strait and in Queen Charlotte Sound. The organization will conduct five activities, including the feasibility of a rapid response and retrieval program to reduce harm from newly-lost fishing nets in B.C., training divers to remove ghost gear and identifying hotspot areas of fishing gear loss.
The organization has set a goal of removing either 10 derelict nets or up to 250 abandoned traps during the course of research.
The Ghost Gear Fund stems from the government’s target of protecting 25 per cent of the Canada’s oceans by 2025.
In 2018 Canada was the 13th nation to join World Animal Protection’s Global Ghost Gear Initiative, an international alliance of nations, companies, and environment groups.
The government noted at the time fishing gear is a far bigger issue to the ocean garbage problem than plastic straws, water bottles and grocery bags, but often flies under the radar as governments and environment groups focus on single-use plastics that will get more attention from businesses and consumers.