A crew member removes a massive crab trap with plastic components from the Gulf of the St. Lawrence in summer 2019. New funding of $8.3 million will see more than two dozen new projects created to tackle fishing gear that may be lost, abandoned or deteriorating in Canada’s waters. Photo credit: DFO.

Plastic debris that ends up in Canada’s waters from fishermen plying their trade has become a major marine litter problem known as ghost gear, and the federal government is looking to end the haunting.

Ghost gear can consist of all lost, abandoned or deteriorating fishing nets and commercial fishing gear, as well as plastic waste from aquaculture. Recent studies indicate that ghost fishing gear may make up 46-70% of all macro-plastics in the ocean by weight, and pose threats to marine animals like whales and turtles.

Now, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is investing $8.3 million into what will be known as the Ghost Gear Fund. It will support 22 projects in Canada and four internationally over the next two years, targeting categories such as gear retrieval, eco-disposal, acquisition and the piloting of new gear technology.

“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,” announced DFO Minister Bernadette Jordan, in a statement. “More importantly, they are creating tangible solutions to help prevent more plastic from entering our waters in the future,” she added.

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The new funding aligns with the federal government’s aim to protect 25% of Canada’s oceans by 2025, working toward 30% by 2030.

In terms of ghost gear retrieval, DFO says it will seek out areas where gear reported lost, such as gillnets, pots and traps, would have a greater impact on the surrounding environment. Other types of lost gear could include longlines, hook and line, trawls and seines.

At least one of the funded international projects will focus on mapping and modelling regional hotspots for gear retrieval.

For eco-disposal of the plastic gear, DFO says it will identify and facilitate ways to keep it out of landfills, seeking out potential options for recycling when possible. New Brunswick’s Fundy North Fishermen’s Association, for instance, will be funded to address the existing gap around the responsible disposal of lobster traps, creating upcycling streams for end-of-life gear.

Additionally, DFO says it will be funding market-ready technology projects aimed at the prevention, reduction and retrieval of ghost gear.

On June 9, 2020, DFO announced that four Canadian small businesses will receive over $2 million in grants to expand their innovative work to minimize plastics pollution by recycling fishing and aquaculture equipment, as well as adapting and recycling abandoned fishing gear into useful biodegradable products.

In summer 2019, DFO and the Canadian Coast Guard conducted a ghost gear retrieval operation called Operation Ghost in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. Over just three days, crews recovered more than 100 snow crab traps and over nine kilometres of rope from the water.

For a full list of projects under the new Ghost Gear Fund, please click here.


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