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Ghost Gear and Marine Debris Identification and Retrieval Program: A Beacon of Hope After Hurricane

AHOI has joined the Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation (CCFI) on their Ghost Gear and Marine Debris Identification and Retrieval Program in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona. This project, funded through Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) Ghost Gear Fund, seeks to address the environmental and social challenges of ghost gear – abandoned or lost fishing gear. CCFI, in collaboration with project partners like AHOI, is using innovative technology to identify and retrieve this lost gear.

Keith Hutchings, Managing Director of CCFI, and Sydney Sullivan, AHOI’s Plastics and Marine Conservation Coordinator, in Norris Point, NL.

Impacts of Ghost Gear on Coastal Communities

Ghost gear includes lost, abandoned or otherwise discarded fishing nets, traps, ropes, buoys, and various materials from the fishing industry, often lost due to weather events such as Hurricane Fiona. Ghost gear negatively impacts communities as it accumulates in important coastal fishing grounds, threatening the ocean floor habitats and entangling marine life, such as commercially important species like lobster. It impacts fishing communities by reducing catch yields and posing vessel safety risks. Moreover, the degradation of these materials can lead to the release of microplastics, further harming ocean environments.

Two lost lobster traps were found on the ocean floor in La Poile using AHOI’s ROV.

AHOI’s Role

Over the summer, we collected over 4,500 pounds of lost fishing gear from the shores of the Gros Morne region, spanning from Trout River to Cow Head! The haul included many items such as fishing nets, lobster traps, ropes, buoys, and other remnants of the fishing industry, all posing a risk to marine life and the local ecosystem.

#AHOIWasteBuster Daniel Laing removing tangled fishing rope from a beach in the Gros Morne region.

CCFI and AHOI's commitment to addressing the ghost gear problem extends far beyond Gros Morne. CCFI has contracted other retrieval partners to execute additional retrieval efforts along the southwest coast. In Burgeo, AHOI supported Sparkes Subsea retrieval efforts, and within a week, they managed to collect a staggering 5,000 pounds of lost gear. The multi-partner approach continued in Rose Blanche-Harbour le Cou, with Sparkes Subsea and Clean Harbours Initiative, where over 11,000 pounds of ghost gear was retrieved!

Lost fishing gear collected by Sparkes Subsea and AHOI in La Poile Bay, NL.

In La Poile, AHOI's remotely operated vehicle (ROV) was put to good use, identifying lost fishing gear for retrieval. We collected over 2500 pounds of lost gear during this endeavour and plan to continue using the ROV to identify ghost gear on the south coast into the 2023 fall season.

AHOI’s ROV, the DeepTrekker Pivot, in La Poile ready to identify and retrieve ghost gear.

Giving Lost Fishing Gear a Second Life

The retrieval efforts led by AHOI and its partners are only half of the equation. What happens to the recovered fishing gear is equally vital. Any identifiable gear is stored at local Harbour Authorities and returned to the harvester whenever possible, offering a second life to these materials. Unusable or untagged fishing gear will be sent to our partner organizations, the Fishing Gear Coalition of Atlantic Canada, Recycle on the Rock, and PLAEX Building Systems Inc. These partnerships will ensure that the untagged gear is either upcycled or responsibly disposed of, thus supporting economic circularity and giving ghost gear a second chance at serving a purpose, all while preventing further environmental harm.

Rebecca Brushett, AHOI’s Founder, and Dustin Bowers, the Founder and CEO of PLAEX, with an eco-brick made of recycled plastics at the Canadian Circular Economy Forum.

In conclusion, the Ghost Gear and Marine Debris Identification and Retrieval Program, spearheaded by the Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation and supported by dedicated partners like AHOI, represents a beacon of hope in the wake of Hurricane Fiona. By addressing the menace of ghost gear, this initiative not only safeguards marine ecosystems and reduces social impacts but also exemplifies the power of collaborative efforts in creating a sustainable and responsible fishing industry.

Want to learn more? Check out our Press Release, or follow us on social media accounts for updates!


The AHOI team!


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