Canada’s Ghost Gear Fund supported 26 projects to remove 63 tonnes of lost fishing gear, or "ghost gear," from coastal waters in Atlantic Canada in 2020.
The effort helped reduce one of the largest sources of marine pollution, according to the government of Canada.
Ghost gear is lost, discarded, or abandoned fishing gear that can be deadly to marine life. World Animal Protection found it four times more likely to trap and kill wildlife than all other marine litter combined.
The organization also reported that ghost gear can catch more than 136,000 whales, dolphins, seals, and turtles every year, which can cause debilitating wounds, entanglement, and starvation.
"Our goal is to do the best we can for Canada and for the oceans around us," Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard Bernadette Jordan told Global Citizen. "We want to be a global leader in protection."
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first announced the Ghost Gear Fund in July 2019 and awarded 26 recipients in July 2020.
Throughout 2020, the program collected more than 3,200 metres of rope, which the government describes as being "the equivalent of 32 football fields." The rest of the collected gear predominantly consisted of traps and pots used for lobster and crab fishing.
The majority of the gear (80%) was collected from the Bay of Fundy and coastal waters in Nova Scotia. The rest was retrieved from the Gulf of St. Lawrence (14%) and from coastal waters in Newfoundland (6%).
A key part of the program is identifying sustainable ways to repurpose the collected gear.
"It’s not enough to take this out of the ocean," Jordan said. "You have to make sure it doesn’t end up in a landfill."
In some instances, last year's collected ghost gear was repurposed into biodiesel and plastic for patio lawn furniture, Jordan said.
The program also works to reunite lost fishing gear with its owners. Fisheries and Oceans Canada introduced a new reporting requirement in 2018 that has made it easier to identify the gear’s owners.
"We had a number of lobster traps and crab pots that were retrieved because they were properly marked and tagged," Jordan said. "It saves [the fishermen] money because these are not things that are cheap to buy."
More than 100 pieces of gear were returned to owners and 25 pieces were handed over by owners so that they could be disposed of safely.
Beyond gear retrieval, the Ghost Gear Fund is also working on developing new technologies to minimize the impact of ghost gear in the future. Some of the projects include mapping the ocean seafloor to understand where the ghost gear is and how it can be retrieved, and finding ways to make gear less likely to get lost in the first place.
Researchers are also working to develop rope that breaks more easily to avoid whale entanglement, Jordan said.
"That’s extremely critical as we’re seeing the North Atlantic whales become an endangered species," she added. "We want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to prevent that from happening."
The minister described the project as a partnership between the Canadian government and community organizers, as fishermen unions took part in the cleanup process.
"This is something that everyone comes together to work on," Jordan said. "And it’s something that we all benefit from because cleaning up our oceans and making sure that they are sustainable for the long term is going to be so important as we move forward."