Exploring options for whale-safe fishing gear and finding innovative ways to prevent, retrieve and recycle lost or discarded fishing gear was the focus of the two-day Gear Innovation Summit, hosted by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) in Halifax on February 11 and 12.
The Summit brought together more than 250 harvesters, industry representatives, fishing gear manufacturers, marine mammal responders, ENGOs and government officials from Canada, the United States, Iceland and Norway. Summit participants contributed to panel discussions, as well as an interactive exhibit space that featured innovations in gear technology and innovative programming from across the country.
“Fish harvesters have shown incredible leadership and a sustained commitment to protecting our oceans,” said Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard when opening the summit.
“Our government is proud to partner with the industry leaders to implement new gear requirements which will reduce the entanglement of whales and decrease the amount of discarded fishing gear in the ocean. We know that for a lucrative fishing industry and healthy marine ecosystem to continue to coexist, we will need innovative solutions. That is exactly why the Gear Innovation Summit is bringing together experts across many fields. Together, we will continue to confront the challenges of our time to ensure that fish harvesters and marine life can share the oceans for generations to come.”
Over the past year, DFO has been working on pilot projects, led by industry, to test the application of new gear technologies, such as ropeless gear. Initiatives such as these are aimed at reducing the amount of rope in the water and subsequently lower the risk of entanglements to whales in the future.
DFO has also established the $8.3-million Sustainable Fisheries Solutions and Retrieval Support Contribution Program (Ghost Gear Fund).
The Ghost Gear Fund supports Canadians in their actions to reduce abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear. Activities include projects by third parties to retrieve ghost gear during closed fishing times, solutions for the disposal of fishing related plastic waste and ghost gear, acquiring and piloting of innovative gear technology for use in Canadian fisheries and supporting international work in high-risk areas to reduce ghost gear.
The program consists of $8.3 million over two years (2020–2022) to support projects that fall under four themes:
- Ghost gear retrieval
- Responsible disposal
- Acquisition and piloting of currently available innovative gear technology
- International leadership
Eligible recipients under the Ghost Gear Fund include not-for-profit and charitable organizations, Canadian or International companies, businesses, organizations, associations, Canadian or International indigenous organizations/communities, recognized research, academic and educational institutions, other levels of government and their agencies or crown corporations and Canadian individuals.
This funding is over and above the funds announced for the Fisheries and Aquaculture Clean Technology Adoption Program, Atlantic Fisheries Fund and Quebec Fisheries Fund, which also encourage innovation and new technology to support the long-term health of Canada’s fish and seafood sector.
Each year, more than eight-million metric tonnes of plastic end up in the world’s oceans. A major contributor to plastic waste is lost and abandoned fishing gear, also known as ghost gear. Ghost gear is one of the deadliest forms of plastic debris and has a damaging impact on marine animals like whales and turtles, the coastal and marine environment, and global fishing stocks.
From July 18 to 20, 2019, DFO conducted a three-day ghost gear retrieval operation in the Gulf of St. Lawrence known as Operation Ghost. The operation recovered over 100 snow crab traps and over nine kilometres of rope from the water.
Since summer 2019, the department has supported several other ghost gear retrieval operations in waters near P.E.I., New Brunswick and British Columbia. More activities are planned for 2020.