Q&A

Canada needs better tracking of debris in the ocean, says researcher

A report released at an international meeting on fisheries organized by the United Nations has lessons for management of fisheries in N.S. and Canada.

'I honestly think the engagement around the right whale entanglement has been a bit of a wake-up call'

Susanna Fuller is a senior projects manager for the NGO Oceans North. She attended the UN meeting last week. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

A new report on the state of the world's fisheries highlights, among other matters, the need for better tracking of lost and abandoned fishing gear in the ocean, according to a Halifax researcher.

The 2018 edition of the State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture was released last week at an international meeting of fishery producers and researchers, organized by the United Nations.

The report is a global look at trends in fisheries and aquaculture stocks, processing and use, as well as the status of the world's fishing fleets. 

But Susanna Fuller, senior projects manager for the NGO Oceans North, said there are elements of the report that are particularly relevant to Nova Scotia. She attended last week's meeting.

Fuller told Information Morning about the lessons that can be drawn from the report. Here is part of that conversation.

One of the statistics we've heard recently is that there could be more plastic in oceans than fish in a few decades. How are we doing in keeping plastic out of the ocean? 

So plastics is definitely an issue and was raised as a threat to fisheries production [at the meeting].  Canada and Nova Scotia are doing OK. Compared to other countries, and developing countries in particular, we have a fairly sophisticated waste-management system. That being said, one of the biggest contributors to ocean plastic is actually fishing gear and it is something that we don't keep track of really well in Canada. 

Some other countries are getting much better at tracking fishing gear and removing it and I know the … the Fundy North Fishermen's Association has done a great job of removing lobster traps, but in Canada we probably could get much better at tracking, particularly gear like gillnets and traps.

You mentioned that they have a nice initiative in the Bay of Fundy, that's the ghost gear initiative project, can you tell us more about that?

The Global Ghost Gear Initiative — what they are doing is really working with fishermen around the world to tag fishing gear and to make sure that fishing gear gets retrieved and returned. And the Fundy North Fishermen's Association has run a program for the past couple years where they're actually removing traps. I think they've actually removed over a 1,000 traps from the Bay of Fundy.

So how do we go about getting more of these groups?

I honestly think the engagement around the right whale entanglement has been a bit of a wake-up call, as difficult as it has been, and continues to be for fishermen on the water. 

I think that being proactive and really trying to take care of gear is something we can do and I think that there's funding out there to help fishermen do it. A lot of this stuff is will, and so if one association can decide they're running this project, others can as well.

There's a lot of talk about waste when it comes to food nowadays, how do fisheries measure up on that front?

Globally, the statistic is about 35 per cent of capture fisheries are lost, either at sea, in the supply chain, at the consumer table, restaurant table or grocery stores. We don't have a good handle on those statistics in Canada and one of the things that was discussed last week is there needs to be a better way of helping countries keep track of waste.

Is there interest in the industry here to address this? 

I think so. I think one of the things is that we have shellfish fisheries which actually have less waste because we catch the whole thing. So lobster, crab, shrimp — fairly little waste.

Fuller said shellfish fisheries produce less waste. (Pat Martel/CBC)

We have a high-value shellfish fishery and sometimes the incentive to actually make more money out of it is not really there. So I think we could do a lot more in terms of that kind of innovation.

So we're doing OK now. What does that say about our future? Are we paying attention to that?

I think there's some key things we need to pay attention to in Canada. One is climate change. It's huge. And Canada actually offered to host a climate change workshop for global fisheries. I think that's a really good step. 

Climate change is just going to throw a spanner in the works to so much of our fisheries because we rely on a natural ecosystem to produce our protein.

That's a big one for me and I think we're already seeing the impacts of it in terms of whale migrations.

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With files from CBC's Information Morning