Two years in, Canada’s Ghost Gear Program keeps gathering ocean waste (and momentum)
The initiative has helped remove approximately 739 tonnes of abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear from Canada's Atlantic and Pacific coasts since 2019.
If the phrase “ghost gear” sounds a bit scary, the reality is even more frightening. Abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear – often referred to as ghost gear – is a leading cause of marine debris around the world and has damaging impacts on global fish stocks and marine mammals.
Which is why Canada’s federal government created the Ghost Gear Program two years ago – to work with partners to rid the oceans of ghost gear and create new solutions to reduce fishing debris. The ultimate goal is to help conserve and restore our marine environment to benefit marine life and coastal communities.
Fast forward to today, and the Honourable Joyce Murray, Minister for Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard has announced that the Ghost Gear Program has helped remove a total of approximately 739 tonnes of abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear from Canada’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts. To put it in Canadian terms, Murray said, it’s the equivalent weight of 231 Zambonis. This includes more than 118 kilometres of rope, an amount that could almost stretch from Fredericton to Saint John, New Brunswick.
When it was launched in 2019, the Ghost Gear Program included the $8.3 million Ghost Gear Fund. Budget 2021 announced an additional $10 million in funding for the program for 2021-2022. Since the launch of the program, partners who received funding through the Ghost Gear Fund have been able to recover approximately 5,828 units of lost gear. Most of the gear retrieved – approximately 84 per cent – were traps or pots that are commonly used in lobster and crab fisheries, and the remaining 16 per cent was a combination of nets and longlines from various fisheries. Derelict gear from non-operational aquaculture sites was also retrieved from the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.
In 2021, the Ghost Gear Fund supported 37 projects, many of which focus on increasing Canada’s recycling capacity for end-of-life fishing gear, and identifying and removing ghost gear from the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and the Fraser River in British Columbia. Among many notable projects, the Fund supported the operation of a recycling depot in British Columbia that’s turning ghost gear into pelletized plastic to be used in secondary products, including kayaks. Of the projects funded in 2021, 14 are being undertaken in collaboration with Indigenous communities and five of these are led by Indigenous organizations.
And the program continues to gain steam. Fisheries and Oceans Canada is in the process of identifying areas for future ghost gear removal and recycling activities in Canada’s northern communities. The Department is also analyzing data from the new Fishing Gear Reporting System, which was launched in June 2021, to better understand the extent of gear loss in Canada.
“Canada has become a leader in the global effort to eliminate and prevent ghost gear in our oceans,” Murray said. “Through our Ghost Gear Program, we’re working with many organizations, communities and harvesters who want to be a part of the solution to protect and regenerate our marine ecosystems by removing this harmful waste.”