Canada announces new initiatives to reduce ghost gear and contribute to healthier oceans

June 26 2019

The global ghost gear crisis is one of the biggest and deadliest threats to ocean animals, contributing up to 70% of macro-plastics in the ocean.

Top photo: Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard (left) and our Oceans Campaign Manager, Lynn Kavanagh, signing the Global Ghost Gear Initiative statement of support at the 2018 G7 Summit in Halifax.

Last year, Canada signed onto the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) to help tackle ghost gear and plastic pollution. As part of their commitment to advance GGGI objectives in Canada and internationally, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has announced some new programs and requirements.

Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Jonathan Wilkinson, tells us: “We are expanding mandatory reporting requirements for lost gear to additional commercial fisheries, and added a new requirement to report any found gear that was previously reported lost. Compiling and mapping this information will allow for targeted efforts to retrieve gear, and more robust analysis of ghost gear in Canada. In addition, DFO is currently assessing its regulatory regime to identify and address any obstacles in the way of reducing ghost gear domestically.”

Ghost gear doesn’t recognize borders

Tackling this global issue requires global collaboration — one of the reasons we founded the GGGI. Just like whales, turtles and other animals that call the ocean home, ghost gear doesn’t recognize geographic borders.

In June, a juvenile male humpback whale entangled in rope from a Nova Scotia lobster trap washed ashore in Scrabster, Scotland. It’s likely the rope was ghost gear and was drifting somewhere in the Atlantic when the whale became entangled.

As noted in this story, Canada has been working to prevent animals from getting entangled. Tagging fishing gear is a great initiative because it helps authorities trace lost or abandoned fishing gear back to their owners, which holds individuals and companies accountable, and helps tackle illegal fishing. Marking of gear is one of many tools that can be utilized to reduce lost gear and aid in its recovery.

The GGGI has seen successful gear-marking projects, such as a pilot project between Worlds Animal Protection, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Indonesian Government, where different gear marking methods were trialed in a small-scale gillnet fishery in Indonesia. The pilot followed our successful lobbying efforts over the past few years to encourage the FAO to adopt gear-marking guidelines as a way to combat ghost gear and illegal fishing.

Leveraging new technologies

Gear-marking is a good step, but other efforts are needed to prevent gear from being lost in the first place. New technology, for example, offers hope for preventing  lost gear and its impacts. The story about the juvenile male humpback whale is a great example; the gear was tagged but it still led to the whale’s entanglement.

Earlier this month, Canada announced that they will work with the fishing industry through a new Sustainable Fisheries Solutions and Retrieval Support Contribution Program to acquire new gear technologies that will reduce gear loss and take concrete actions to support ghost gear retrieval and responsible disposal.

Minister Wilkinson also stated: “DFO has committed $2.6 million towards initiatives that invite Canadian small businesses to develop innovative technologies to reduce domestic marine plastic waste, including ghost gear. This challenge included initiatives to remove and manage ghost fishing gear, other marine debris, and sustainable fishing and aquaculture gear.”

The government will also be hosting a Gear Innovation Summit in 2020, which will include a stream focused on technological solutions to mitigate ghost gear. Through this summit and other international meetings, Canada will encourage other like-minded nations to sign on to the GGGI, promoting the UN’s FAO voluntary gear-marking guidelines, and participate in regional fisheries bodies.

We are pleased to see the government moving forward on its commitment to fight the ghost gear problem both domestically and on the international stage.

You can learn more about the Global Ghost Gear Initiative and solution projects on their website here.

You can learn more about our Sea Change campaign and the work we do here.

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