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Government invests in ghost gear retrieval

The federal government has initiated a multi-million dollar program to retrieve derelict fishing gear, known as ghost gear, from the ocean.

Each year, an estimated 640,000 tons of abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear enters ocean waters, where it can remain for hundreds of years, entangling whales, turtles, sharks and fish. In an effort to address the challenge, government will provide up to $8.3 million to help communities retrieve and dispose of ghost gear.

This initiative was a key feature of Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns’ M-151 motion to combat marine plastics pollution, which has been supported in the House of Commons.

“This is really great to see the commitment of the government,” Johns said. “The UN predicts that over 100,000 mammals or fish are entangled a year in plastic, and sea mammals, and over one million birds. A lot of that plastic is in ghost and derelict fishing gear. The leadership comes from our riding on this issue.”

He commends groups such as the Emerald Sea Protection Society, the Denman Island Marine Stewards and the Port Alberni-based Rendezvous Dive Adventures. The latter has been removing gear for many years in Barkley Sound.

“It came about when a group found a lost gill net on one of our dive sites,” Peter Mieras said. “We contacted the local DFO office, and set up a removal plan, where my wife and I were the volunteer divers, and DFO provided a surface supply crew. It (net) had unfortunately accumulated a number of dead birds, dead crabs, dead fish — all non-targeted species.

“In the years we’ve been doing it, we have removed quite a bit of derelict fishing gear, both commercial and recreational,” Mieras added.

The Sustainable Fisheries Solutions and Retrieval Support Contribution Program will also support fish harvesters to acquire new clean technologies to reduce gear loss.

Johns said the issue of ghost fishing gear “absolutely includes aquaculture.”

He anticipates a Gear Innovation Summit, which Fisheries and Oceans Canada plans to host in February, will provide an opportunity for all industries to be part of the solution.

“They understand we have the longest coastline in the world, and we need to be stewards and leaders.”

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