Offshore Harvesters Help Reduce ‘Ghost Fishing’ - Contributing Towards Healthier, Cleaner Oceans
Environment Week Highlight

Offshore harvesters will now be able to do more to help keep our oceans healthier and cleaner. Some shrimp and turbot vessels in the offshore fishery will be participating in a pilot project with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to help tackle challenges created by lost or abandoned fishing gear.

Lost or abandoned fishing gear, often referred to as ‘ghost gear’, pollutes oceans and contributes to the mortality of fish stocks. If not retrieved, ghost fishing gear can continue to kill marine species for many years. The United Nations has estimated that 640,000 tons of abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear enters the oceans each year.

Andrew Titus spent a career in the offshore fishery, including many years as Captain of Mersey Seafoods’ northern shrimp vessel the ‘Mersey Phoenix’. Titus explains that in addition to being harmful pollution similar to trash in the woods, the ghost gear continues to kill fish in perpetuity, harming fish stocks.

“With crab pots, crabs will go in, they’ll die in there because the pot is lost and not being tended to. Then that crab becomes bait, attracting more crab. That cycle just continues over and over. With Gillnets, it is much the same. Fish get inside the net and die, as they rot, they make space for more fish to enter the net.”

With fishers working in harsh conditions, losing gear is sometimes unavoidable. Titus estimates that a crab season with significant ice or a groundfish season with a lot of summer and fall storms is often the cause of gear becoming lost or abandoned.

This ghost gear sometimes gets entangled in offshore fish harvester’s fishing gear and comes aboard the vessels in the trawl. Current regulations don’t allow them to bring it in to be responsibly discarded, which puts harvesters in a difficult position.

“As harvesters, we have a lot of respect for the ocean. It’s pristine and we want to protect it, to keep it as clean as possible. So when we see ghost gear that is polluting the ocean and killing fish unnecessarily, we know it’s a problem and we want to be part of the solution. We want to do the responsible thing and bring it ashore to be disposed of,” Titus adds.

The Canadian Association of Prawn Producers, which represents offshore shrimp harvesters, proposed the changes to DFO in 2019 and the pilot project begins this summer. For the pilot project, harvesters will be able to safely retrieve and responsibly dispose of ghost gear that is entangled in their own gear.

It is CAPP’s hope that a successful pilot project will result in more fishers being authorized to safely retrieve and responsibly dispose of ghost fishing gear.