More than 30 lost traps recovered off Cape Breton in effort to remove 'ghost gear'

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard spent three days recovering lost fishing gear in the Gulf of St. Lawrence last week. It's a part of ongoing efforts by the federal government to protect right whales who are at risk of entanglement.

The largest amount of lost traps recovered were found off Chéticamp

Crews spent three days searching for and retrieving lost fishing gear from the Gulf of St. Lawrence as part of Operation Ghost. (Submitted by Department of Fisheries and Oceans)

In a series called Deep Trouble, CBC News explores the perils facing the endangered North Atlantic right whale. 

Federal officials recovered 101 lost snow crab traps in the Gulf of St. Lawrence last week as part of an effort to remove lost fishing equipment known as ghost gear. 

The largest amount of lost traps recovered — more than 30 — were found off Chéticamp in western Cape Breton.

The recovery mission was the first of its kind in Canada and was part of the federal government's ongoing efforts to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales.

Eight of the whales have been found dead in Canadian waters this year, and there are only about 400 of the species left in the world.

The three-day mission involved 13 vessels from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.

Dylan Yates, president of the Cape Breton Environmental Association, has been cleaning beaches around the island and says most of the debris that washes ashore comes from the fishing industry. 

Eight North Atlantic right whale deaths have been reported this year. This whale was found off Quebec's Gaspé Peninsula. (Marilyn Marx/Anderson Cabot Center-NEAQ)

"We have major storm events and what happens [with the traps] is they bang up and they entangle with one another," said Yates.

"It's very difficult to get those traps out of the water because it's a safety issue."

Officers retrieved lost crab fishing gear from the ocean last summer. (Submitted by the Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

Yates said fishing gear is the most harmful marine debris.

"When you think about this type of debris, it's actually designed specifically to trap and entangle marine life and it does a very good job at doing that," he said.

Merrill MacInnis, a fisherman from Victoria County, said when harvesters lose a trap, they usually try to recover it immediately, whether from the shore, in a dinghy, or from a fishing vessel.

If a trap is cut off from the line, harvesters have to report the exact trap number as lost, he said.

Dylan Yates, president of the Cape Breton Environmental Association, piles ghost gear found on Schooner Pond beach in this undated photo. (Submitted by Dylan Yates.)

"If DFO comes out and checks your gear and finds the tag you reported missing in the water attached to your gear, you could be charged," MacInnis said.

DFO said in addition to the threat to whales, lost fishing gear can trap marine life that could otherwise be harvested.

However, MacInnis said traps have been designed with escape hatches attached with dissolvable materials for the last 30 years.

"These biodegradable rings will disintegrate and it makes an escape for any creature that goes into it," he said.

DFO says charges could be laid

Just last year, DFO began requiring harvesters in the southern Gulf to report lost fishing gear. The department said it has received more than 1,000 reports of lost gear in the past year.

DFO said at least 75 of the recovered traps have clearly identifiable buoys attached.

The department said it will return any lost gear that was reported, but gear that was not reported lost will be investigated and may lead to charges.


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