The Government of Canada is committing $8.3 million to help fish harvesters, environmental groups, Indigenous communities, and the aquaculture industry retrieve abandoned fishing gear, or so-called ghost gear, from the ocean and dispose of it responsibly.
Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced the new Sustainable Fisheries Solutions and Retrieval Program at a media event in Nova Scotia on Aug. 27.
“Our government has made fighting plastic pollution a top priority,” said the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, in the Aug. 27 media release.
“Just a few months ago, the Government of Canada announced that it will ban harmful single-use plastics as early as 2021. Today’s actions build on that commitment. Removing harmful ghost fishing gear from the oceans will support a healthy ocean environment and contribute to the economic resilience of Canada’s coastal and rural communities,” said Hon. Wilkinson.
Jennifer Adamson volunteers for the Emerald Sea Protection Society, a B.C.-based non-profit made up of divers and scientists who work together to recover abandoned fishing gear. She said she was thankful to hear this promise from Ottawa.
“One of our big projects that we did was a great, big seine net. It was the size of a football field,” said Adamson. “It was on the floor of the water right beside Pender Island. We sent divers down and they just hacked away at it.”
She went on to say that they pulled the net up using buoyancy tools, cleaned the net to get all the debris off and then Emerald Sea Society shipped the net to Steveston Harbour for recycling.
“They turned the net into some pretty cool stuff, like skateboards and clothing,” said Adamson. “It’s worth getting it out of the ocean.”
In March, Emerald Sea teamed up with Surfrider Pacific Rim to retrieve ghost gear from Tofino’s First Street dock. The volunteer divers recovered over 1,200 kilograms of debris from the ocean floor in one day. According to Fisheries and Oceans, 640,000 tons of abandoned fishing gear enters our oceans every year.
Funding for the new Sustainable Fisheries Solutions and Retrieval Program will likely be accessed through an application process. Fisheries and Oceans Canada will also host a Gear Innovation Summit in February 2020, which will include discussions on technological solutions to prevent ghost gear from entering the oceans in the first place.
Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns commended Hon. Wilkinson and Government of Canada for the funding commitment. Johns touched on the issue of ghost gear and derelict boats in the House of Commons in November 2018.
“As members know, ghost fishing gear is dangerous to the mammals and species in the ocean. A lot of birds, seals, crab and even our fish get entangled in ghost fishing gear. It is very important that we explore ways to get it out. It is costly for the economy. Washington State says it costs it about $700,000 U.S. just in lost crab to crab pots that have been left at the bottom of the sea, that have escaped,” stated Johns.
The ghost gear retrieval program follows through on one of the recommendations put forward in MP Johns’ M-151 motion to combat marine plastics pollution, which received unanimous support by the House of Commons in December 2018.
“It is extremely encouraging to receive the federal government’s announcement on funding for ghost gear clean up in Canadian waters,” reads a statement from Surfrider Canada.
“We are eager for the federal government to implement all other recommendations put forward by Motion-151, in addition to the recommendations we sent to the Minister of Environment in June in partnership with 11 other environmental nonprofit organizations, which includes adding plastic waste to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act’s Schedule 1 List of Toxic Substances. Lastly, funding for the recycling of all retrieved ghost gear needs to be provided by the federal government to ensure this material is kept out of landfills and turned back into a resource,” Surfrider Canada states.