Combatting marine litter: Ghost gear
Commercial harvesters should report any lost or retrieved gear.
One of the biggest threats to our oceans is marine litter and in particular, ghost fishing gear. Ghost gear is any fishing equipment or fishing-related litter that has been abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded and is some of the most harmful and deadly debris found in oceans.
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Where ghost gear comes from
Every year, about 640,000 tonnes of fishing gear and fishing-related litter is either lost, abandoned or discarded in the ocean. Ghost gear is mostly due to severe weather, entanglement in other gear, snags on rocks, reefs or spires beneath the surface of the water and marine traffic accidentally cutting it loose. It is a major contributor to plastic marine debris.
Why ghost gear is a problem
Removing ghost gear from our waters helps with the conservation of our fisheries, because gear traps marine species that would otherwise form part of the regular catch.
Reporting lost gear
Collecting information on both lost and retrieved gear allows us to better analyze Canada’s ghost gear issue. It also helps us focus efforts on areas that have higher concentrations of gear.
More recently, we’ve made reporting lost gear a licencing condition for more fisheries. This includes all fixed-gear fisheries in southern the Gulf of St. Lawrence since 2018.
Deep water fisheries have been required to report lost gear since the early 1990s.
In addition to reporting lost gear, commercial fisheries are also required to report any lost gear that they retrieve.
What we are doing
We have been working with industry on an ongoing basis to encourage fish harvesters to undertake ghost gear removal initiatives, alongside local fishery enforcement officers. We are also working to expand lost gear reporting requirements for commercial fishing licences.
A Gear Innovation Summit will take place early 2020 and will include a stream focused on technological solutions to mitigate ghost gear.
Through the Innovative Solutions Canada program, we challenged small businesses across Canada to find innovative ways to:
- help clean up our oceans and waterways
- minimize impacts of marine debris and ghost fishing gear
- prevent plastic waste from entering our aquatic environments
We have already seen some innovative local projects.
We will work with stakeholders through a new Sustainable Fisheries Solutions and Retrieval Support Contribution Program. We will support fish harvesters to acquire new gear technologies to reduce gear loss, and take concrete actions to support ghost gear retrieval and responsible disposal. We will work together with Canadians to reduce the impacts of ghost fishing gear in our aquatic ecosystems and keep our endangered marine animals safe.
Our efforts are also in support of international commitments made by Canada through the G7, the United Nations and the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee, among others.
Global Ghost Gear Initiative
Canada is proud to have signed the Global Ghost Gear Initiative. By collaborating with international partners to share knowledge and take coordinated action, Canada is strengthening its commitment to improve the health and sustainability of our oceans by reducing marine litter and plastic pollution. Supporting the Global Ghost Gear Initiative is important to Canada because oceans are vitally important to Canadians:
- the marine sector contributes to over 300,000 jobs and contributes over $30 billion to the Canadian economy
- Canada has the longest coastline in the world, stretching almost 244,000 kilometres
- 8 of our 10 provinces and all three of our territories border the waters of the Atlantic, Pacific or Arctic oceans
- the health of our oceans is key to feeding our population, to sustaining our trading economy, and to nurturing tourism and recreation in our country
Ghost gear retrieval operations
From July 18 to 20, 2019, DFO and the Canadian Coast Guard conducted a 3-day ghost gear retrieval operation called Operation Ghost in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This operation focused on areas with concentrations of ghost gear.
The goal of Operation Ghost was to remove as much lost fishing gear as possible from the Gulf of St. Lawrence in order to help prevent entanglements to marine mammals, including right whales, and increase the sustainability of Canada’s Atlantic fisheries.
We recovered over 100 snow crab traps removing over 9 km of rope from the water.
Also in July 2019, fishery officers from Alberton Detachment in Prince Edward Island, along with many volunteers, conducted a joint lobster gear retrieval exercise with local harvesters, including Lennox Island First Nation. They retrieved 59 traps and one gill net.
These operations are one part of a larger initiative to prevent and retrieve plastic debris entering the ocean. We are encouraging innovation and research in the ways we dispose of our plastics while continuing to work to remove existing plastics from our waters.
Oceans plastics and marine litter
Each year, 8 million tonnes of plastic pollution enter the oceans from land, globally. It is found on shorelines, in the water, and even in wildlife across Canada’s coasts and freshwater areas, such as the Great Lakes. Reducing plastic waste, marine litter and plastic pollution is a priority for the Government of Canada. We’re working hard to champion international and corporate leadership on the issue through a variety of initiatives, including the adoption of the Ocean Plastics Charter. Domestically, the Government of Canada is working with provincial and territorial partners.
- News release: Environment, Oceans and Energy Ministers ready to take action on our oceans and seas; conclude G7 joint meeting on Healthy Oceans, Seas and Resilient Coastal Communities
- Supporting sustainable oceans and fisheries by combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing
- Canada's oceans agenda: taking steps to ensure we have safer, cleaner and healthier oceans
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