New federal program aims to clean up oceans, reel in ‘ghost gear’

The federal government is cracking down on “ghost gear” in Canadian waters with a new initiative that aims to reel in the lost, abandoned and discarded fishing equipment.

Local members of Parliament announced the new $8.3-million Sustainable Fisheries Solutions and Retrieval Contribution Support Program in Dartmouth on Tuesday.

The funding will be available to Indigenous communities, environmental groups, harvesters and the aquaculture industry between 2020 and 2022.

Information on how to apply for the cash will be available through Fisheries and Oceans Canada in the coming year, but the program is intended to support efforts to prevent, mitigate and safely dispose of ghost gear.

“Our oceans are up against some serious environmental challenges,” said Dartmouth-Cole Harbour MP Darren Fisher.

“From climate change to loss of biodiversity and the growing threat of plastic pollution. It harms both our environment and our economy.”

According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, about 640,000 tonnes of fishing equipment ends up in oceans annually, polluting the water and harming marine life, including the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

Earlier this year, the department embarked on a mission to remove ghost gear from the animal’s habitat in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and collecting 101 snow crab traps and more than nine kilometres of rope.

To date in 2019, harvesters have reported at least 1,000 instances of lost equipment in the southern Gulf.

“This is obviously an emergent problem, a growing problem on the way that marine mammals are being fouled by gear,” Halifax MP Andy Fillmore told reporters. “This money now is in reaction to that and in support of that earlier ocean plastics summit and the upcoming gear summit as well.”

The announcement comes on the heels of a federal commitment to ban certain single-use plastics by 2021, and the joining of a global pact to rid the world’s oceans of millions of tonnes of old fishing gear.

It’s estimated that 8 million tonnes of plastic move from land into the ocean annually, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada says the new ghost gear removal program will contribute to mitigating that problem.

Its focus will be on four pillars, according to an emailed statement from the department: gear acquisition and piloting of technology to prevent gear loss; third party-led retrieval of ghost gear, disposal and recycling; and international support.

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