A Cetus Cetus Research & Conservation Society staff member and volunteer monitor vessel traffic in Johnstone Straight as a part of the society’s Straitwatch program.

A Cetus Cetus Research & Conservation Society staff member and volunteer monitor vessel traffic in Johnstone Straight as a part of the society’s Straitwatch program.

Victoria conservation group aims to recover derelict fishing gear

As many as 20,000 abandoned fishing nets have set a deadly trap around southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.

Monsters are lurking deep beneath our coastal waters and it doesn’t take a cryptozoologist to identify the beasts.

As many as 20,000 abandoned fishing nets have set a deadly trap around southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. Each net is capable of killing about 20,000 animals and, without any cleanup programs in the region, the numbers are only going up.

Cetus Research & Conservation Society, a Victoria-based non-profit group aimed at public education, stewardship and marine mammal response, hopes to turn that around with a derelict gear removal program. While Cetus’ public education work is government-funded, the society relies solely on public support for additional programming, such as gear removal – a project expected to run an initial cost of $15,000, considering the labour involved in identifying and safely removing nets from the seafloor. Pulling up some of the estimated 1,500 unused crab traps in the waters between Sidney and Victoria is also within the project’s mandate. Labeled nets and traps are returned to their rightful owners.

“When you see (lost gear) enough, you realize there’s a lot out there,” said Linda McGrew, Cetus administrative director, noting the group’s involvement with the Marine Mammal Response Network at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Their staff continue to respond to calls of whales entangled in lost fishing nets.

“It’s going to take a lot of research and visiting other countries where they do this kind of work, because we don’t have anything like this in Canada right now,” McGrew said.

She suggests a 10-year timeline is needed to bring Vancouver Island up to speed with Washington State where a similar program has been underway for a decade within Puget Sound. Maintenance measures would still be needed for the long-term, McGrew added.

Cetus is hosting a three-course dinner at 6 p.m., Feb. 26 at the Olive Grove, 4496 West Saanich Rd., to help fund the program. The evening includes a trivia game, door prizes and cash bar.

Tickets are $30 and available at the Olive Grove, Cetus Research & Conservation Society (920 Johnson St.), or online by contacting info@cetussociety.org.

nnorth@saanichnews.com