Canada

Ghost nets litter Newfoundland waters

Hundreds of silent killers are lurking in the waters of Newfoundland's Placentia Bay. They're called ghost nets, and they're floating walls of deadly mesh each as long as a football field.

Slowly but surely, they're wiping out the cod that are trying to survive in a fragile fishery.

After an emergency closure of the cod fishery in Newfoundland last week, officers on patrol are shocked to find so many of them.

After just one day of hauling them in this week, they've already dumped 10,000 kilograms of dead cod.

"So far we've only retrieved 30 nets, so no doubt there's more in the area that could be retrieved," said fisheries officer Tilman Bieger. "Some may have buoys on the surface. Some we may have to search for later."

Most ghost nets are about 100 metres long and three metres deep. They're anchored to the bottom and float upward. They catch fish by the gills.

When the nets are full they sink to the ocean floor. The dead fish rot away or get eaten by scavengers. Then the nets refloat themselves and the process of trapping fish starts all over again. It's a cycle that can go on for 10 years, until the nets fall apart.

Some of the ghost nets seized belong to poachers, some went missing in stormy weather and some were just abandoned. But they're all killing cod by the thousands.

Local fishers, like Ralph Ryan, are outraged at those responsible.

"They aren't real fishermen, not in my book," said Ryan. "They're a disgrace to themselves and to the fishermen of Newfoundland."

Scientists are also shocked. Biologist George Rose has studied cod for 20 years and says what makes this situation even worse is the area where it's happening.

"The bottom of Placentia Bay is one of the main spawning areas of Newfoundland waters," said Rose. "In fact it is the largest spawning area that we know about in Atlantic Canada right at the present time."

Fisheries officers say they will lay charges in some of these cases, but fishers say the fines that are normally handed out aren't enough.

They want anyone caught leaving ghost nets in the water barred from fishing for good.

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