Nova Scotia

Ottawa announces $8.3M fund to help rid Canadian waters of ghost gear

The new gear retrieval program announced Tuesday will help fishermen, environmental groups and coastal communities find and retrieve so-called "ghost gear" from the ocean and dispose of it responsibly.

DFO says 640,000 tonnes of abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear enters the world's oceans every year

Capt. David Anderson of Captain Dave's Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari in Dana Point, Calif., shows a net that a whale was found entangled in on Nov. 30, 2015. (Christine Armario/The Canadian Press/AP)

Ottawa says it will spend $8.3 million in an effort to rid Canadian waters of abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear.

The new gear retrieval program announced Tuesday will help fishermen, environmental groups and coastal communities find and retrieve so-called "ghost gear" from the ocean and dispose of it responsibly.

It will also support the acquisition of new technologies to reduce gear loss.

It's welcome news for Shawn Bath, the Newfoundland diver behind Clean Harbours Initiative, a group trying to remove as much garbage as it can from the waters off the island.

"It's an absolute necessity, it has to be done," he said. "Within a very short period of time, I'm hoping we will have people out there dragging for this ghost gear."

Fisheries and Oceans Canada says 640,000 tonnes of abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear enters the world's oceans every year. It can stay in the water for hundreds of years, entangling sharks and other fish, whales and turtles.

Bath says in all the time he's spent diving for trash in the ocean, ghost gear has become a huge concern for him.

A few weeks ago, he strung up a 91-metre fishing net along one of the busiest streets in downtown St. John's in an effort to bring more attention to the problem.

People with the Clean Harbours Initiative hang up a massive ghost net in downtown St. John's. (Shawn Bath/Facebook)

Bath said fishermen often call him, looking for a way to help him get the nets out of the water. He hopes to avail of some of the funding announced Tuesday to hire a few of those fishermen to do just that.

"We will be able to hire fishers and put them to work and make everybody happy. Make the marine life happy, make the fishermen happy and make us happy," he said.

Could be good for endangered right whales

Fisheries and Oceans Canada says it will also host a gear innovation summit in February 2020, which will include discussions on technological solutions to prevent the loss of fishing gear.

The new program is especially pertinent in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where the department has launched an effort in recent years to clean up ghost gear as part of efforts to save the endangered North Atlantic right whale population.

The population currently sits at around 400 animals, and eight whales have died in Canadian waters this year.

Federal fishery officers and the Canadian Coast Guard removed 101 lost snow crab traps from the gulf during a three-day operation in July. The trap removal operation also took more than nine kilometres of rope from the water.

Since 2018, harvesters in the southern gulf have been required to report lost gear, and so far this year there have been more than 1,000 reports of lost fishing gear, according to the department.

With files from Jane Adey

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