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From damaged pots to building blocks: making space for marine waste in a circular economy

When thinking about a natural disaster, the first thing to come to most people's minds is helping those who have been impacted. That was our reaction after Hurricane Fiona hit the south west coast of Newfoundland, and was also the motivation behind our recent project to retrieve dislodged and displaced fishing gear, also known as "ghost gear". But along with cleaning up coastal areas and returning usable gear to fish harvesters, we also wanted to find ways to keep the collected marine debris - specifically the plastic fishing material - from entering the landfill. In March of 2023, we did just that!

By partnering with Tour Gros Morne (TGM) and working with other organizations, including Clean Harbours Initiative, we removed a whopping 7892lbs of ghost gear from Rose Blanche to Port Aux Basques! Of that, 2500lbs - nearly one third - was successfully upcycled!

We worked with PLAEX Building Systems Inc. to identify the types of fishing lines that could be upcycled and then sorted for secondary processing. Working through the massive mixture of fishing lines, trawl lines, gill nets, and various other marine debris was tedious but necessary work!

We sourced previously-used bags to store it in, and with the help of Freightera, was able to ship it to New Brunswick, where it will be transformed into building materials that will be used in Atlantic Canada.

The impact of this project extends beyond the removal and upcycling of ghost gear on the southwestern coast of Newfoundland. We worked and collaborated with local fish harvesters, community members, and other organizations to start conversations about the value of the ocean to these coastal communities. The people that we engaged with were interested in how we could stop fishing gear from ever getting lost in the first place.

58% of the 7892lbs collected came from Diamond Cove harbour alone, where six fishing properties were washed into the ocean during the hurricane, and three more were severely damaged. We are blown away by how much ghost gear we’ve collected in just the Diamond Cove area, Being on the ground and seeing how massive and entangled the debris is, we know it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

While working alongside Clean Harbours Initiative, we helped remove a mass of entangled fishing traps, nets, rope, and other materials, weighing an estimated 5000lbs from Rose Blanche harbour. The variety of live and dead marine life trapped within the large entanglement shows that ghost gear continues to fish long after it’s lost in the sea. Since the record-breaking storm hit in September 2022, debris has been littering the shore, posing a threat to marine life, interfering with navigation, and breaking down into other harmful forms of marine pollution.

This 5,000lb mass of ghost gear took 3 hours - and a lot of team work - to pull from the ocean!

AHOI received funding from Fisheries and Oceans Canada to conduct this important work from November 2022 to March 2023. Our team of #AHOIWasteBusters spent weeks scouring the coastline, identifying large quantities of fishing debris strewn across the beaches and intertidal areas, and collecting it throughout multiple communities. Local community members were pleased to see that this work was being done, and expressed interest in working together again in the future. We at AHOI hope to play a big role in creating a circular economy for marine debris. Stay tuned to find out about future projects that tackle ghost gear in this region and beyond!

Want to learn more? Have a listen to Ian's interview with CBC Radio to hear how things looked on the ground and how they managed this great undertaking, check out our Press Release, or have a look at the photo gallery below.


The AHOI and Tour Gros Morne team!



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