The Chronicle Herald (Metro)
Online tool helps track ghost gear
Over 200 tonnes of equipment removed from ocean since 2019
The federal Fisheries Department is trying to provide marine animals and ocean ecosystems a ghost of a chance to survive and flourish.
“Since 2019, we’ve actually removed 224 tonnes of gear from the ocean,” federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan said Wednesday in support of an announcement that the program to combat ghost gear in the ocean would be enhanced with the launch of a new retrieval system.
“This is a huge problem having this gear out there but we are trying to make it as easy as possible for retrieval and that’s why this new tool that we’re launching is so exciting,” said Jordan, the MP for South Shore-st. Margarets.
Ghost gear is lost, abandoned or derelict fishing gear and it is a leading cause of marine pollution.
“This is mostly about the inshore commercial harvesters, lobster gear, anything that’s lost during a season and it happens quite a bit,” Jordan said.
The $8.3-million ghost gear program was launched in 2019 and in two years it helped remove 224 tonnes of old gear from Canadian and international waters, 159 million tonnes coming out of the Atlantic Ocean. In more than 185 retrieval trips, more than
1,300 units of gear, including 27,000 feet of rope, were retrieved.
The federal government's spring budget earmarked another $10 million over two years to fund the program that has created more than 300 jobs.
On Wednesday, the fisheries minister announced a new online system that makes it easier for commercial harvesters to report their lost fishing gear.
The new fishing gear reporting system allows commercial harvesters to conveniently input a description of their lost gear, the cause of loss, and its location from any online device. All commercial harvesters in Canada are required to report lost fishing gear to the department.
“What happens is if a harvester loses gear, they have to download a form, they have to fill it out, they have to scan it and they have to send it back to DFO so that we have an idea of where the gear is,” Jordan said of how the gear is currently traced.
“We've developed an app. It's real time, they open it, they have their own account and they say where (the lost gear) is. This allows us to more accurately track where gear is, so that it's easier to retrieve.”
The new app will provide the department with more accurate and timely data on areas where gear loss is most frequent, as well as the most common causes of gear loss. Much of the lost gear is returned to its owner.
“Of the 224 tonnes that we have removed from the ocean, 101 tonnes of that has already been returned back to harvesters,” Jordan said. “It's expensive, some of this gear, so they're actually happy to get a lot of it back. We are working in collaboration with (harvesters) to make sure that we are doing all we can to help them, too.”
Jordan said when funds were allocated in 2019, the program quickly oversubscribed with people who wanted to take part.
“We have a team that we work with,” she said. “This year, for example, a number of organizations have applied for the funding. They work with the industry, they go out offseason, on lobster boats, the captains often know where there is gear and they go and they work to retrieve it.”
The minister said it can become a competition among fishing boat captains to see who can retrieve the most gear.
“It's not just for retrieval, it's also about finding ways to stop us from losing gear,” Jordan said. “It's also to look at how do we best find about what's going on with gear when we are losing it. Those are all longer-term questions but it is exciting to have the funding available to be able to do these programs.”
Jordan said another part of the funding goes to develop programs and technology that is actually able to help with marine problems like whale entanglement.
“I attended a gear summit just before the pandemic hit and a lot of industry people are working really hard to come up with things like quick-breaking rope, easy release, so that if there is an entanglement, it's easy to get the gear (detached) from the animal,” Jordan said. “These are all things that we are working with industry on and we're helping fund some of this research.”
The minister said unretrieved gear is ocean garbage, something that does not need to be there.
“Our oceans are so, so important to us as coastal people. They provide our livelihoods, it's tourism, it's recreation and we have to take better care of them.”
Jordan said Canada is a world leader in ghost gear retrieval.
“Ghost gear isn't just a problem in Canada, it's a problem everywhere,” Jordan said. “My counterparts around the world are saying, tell us about your ghost gear, how does this work, what are you doing?”