Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson field questions at a news conference as the G7 environment, oceans and energy ministers meet in Halifax on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Canada signs global pact to help rid world’s oceans of abandoned fishing gear

The federal Fisheries Minister says it’s a ‘critical issue’

Canada has joined a global alliance trying to rid the world’s oceans of millions of tonnes of old fishing nets.

Canada is the 13th nation to join World Animal Protection’s Global Ghost Gear Initiative, an international alliance of nations, companies, and environment groups started in 2015 to go after one of the most significant contributors to the earth’s plastic problem.

“We’re saying this is a critical issue for us to address,” Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said in an interview.

Wilkinson added Canada to the alliance in Halifax this week as the federal government played host to G7 environment, energy and fisheries ministers.

Fishing gear is a far bigger issue to the ocean garbage problem than plastic straws, water bottles and grocery bags, but often flies under the radar as governments and environment groups focus on single-use plastics that will get more attention from businesses and consumers.

READ MORE: New maritime signs target derelict boats in B.C. bay

Measurements show fishing nets make up almost half the weight of the 80,000-tonne Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a soupy-mess of broken down bits of plastic floating in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and California. By size, the patch is bigger than the entire province of Quebec, and is the largest of five such plastic patches in the oceans around the world.

In addition to nets, ghost gear spotted in the patch includes crab pots, oyster spacers, ropes, eel traps, crates and baskets. Fishers sometimes purposely abandon the gear, but often it comes loose accidentally and floats away.

Josey Kitson, executive director of World Animal Protection Canada, says the lost gear is one of the biggest hazards for marine life. Research shows 136,000 seals, sea lions and small whales die each year after being tangled in abandoned fishing gear.

“It does what it’s meant to do which is fish,” Kitson said. ”It continues to fish indiscriminately catching whales, dolphins, sea turtles, even other fish that it wasn’t meant to catch.”

The gear, mostly made of plastic, can float thousands of kilometres away and exist for hundreds of years. Kitson said lobster traps with Canadian information on them have been found on beaches in the United Kingdom, for example.

Wilkinson acknowledged there isn’t a lot of good data to show how much Canadian fishing equipment contributes to the problem. He said tagging all fishing gear so it can be traced back to its origin is one of the initiatives Canada is looking at doing.

A system to report lost gear, as well as improving the ability to remove rogue nets and lines from the water are also necessary, he said.

Wilkinson said fishers on the East Coast trying to remove ghost gear are often prevented from doing so because existing regulations prevent the removal of gear you don’t own.

The United Kingdom is the only other G7 nation already part of the ghost gear initiative, but Kitson hopes Canada’s participation will encourage others to follow suit.

Kitson said her group is also looking for Ottawa to establish a dedicated marine debris program, and add ghost gear to fisheries management plans.

“We’re really looking forward to working with the Canadian government looking ahead into the future to make sure that ghost gear is a priority,” she said.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Police stay quiet on downtown fire investigation

The fire at Victoria’s Plaza Hotel was deemed suspicious on May 14

Cyclists and drivers take to the streets Wednesday morning in first official Bike to Work Week celebration

The 25th annual Greater Victoria Bike to Work Week kicks off the followingMonday, May 27

Police arrest jewellery thieves in same building they allegedly stole from

More than $6,000 worth of jewellery was recovered

Coastline serves up a feast of fiddlers in Oak Bay

Local Juno Award winner musical director for ensemble

High of 21 C for Wednesday

Plus your weekend forecast

Greater Victoria wanted list for the week of May 21

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

POLL: Were you satisfied with the Game of Thrones series finale?

Millions gathered in front of their televisions Sunday night to watch the… Continue reading

Sitting and sleeping on downtown sidewalks could net $100 fine in Penticton

The measure, which still requires final approval, would be enforced between May and Sept. 30

B.C. man killed in logging accident ‘would have done anything for anyone’

Wife remembers 43-year old Petr Koncek, father of two children

Ottawa spending $24.5M to research on health benefits, risks of pot use

$390,000 will fund two cannabis public awareness

Crackdown on money laundering does not include federal public inquiry: minister

An independent report commissioned concluded $7.4 billion was laundered in B.C. last year

Trudeau’s action plan on climate change brings B.C. politician out of retirement

Terry Lake, a former B.C. health minister, is running for federal office in Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo

Most Read