What is ghost gear?

Ghost gear refers to any fishing gear that has been abandoned, lost or discarded, this could be from various factors such as: bad weather conditions, snagged beneath the surface, conflict with other gear or vessels, or entanglement.

Ghost gear is a problem because it turns into a continuous cycle of ghost fishing. Ghost fishing is a term that describes what happens when abandoned fishing gear continues to fish due to the trap being baited, once lost, the trap will attract fish, scavengers, and crustacean, which may become trapped and die, forming more bait and a continuous cycle.

It is recognized as one of the deadliest forms of marine litter. It catches and wastes targeted species, such as lobster, in unknown numbers and could have an impact on the health of the stock. Also, it entangles other marine wildlife, adds to ocean garbage, and is expensive and hazardous for fishermen and marine communities to deal with as ropes/nylon lines can affect vessels propulsion and ability to manoeuvre.

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Plans for combating Ghost Gear

Our goal is to clean the oceans from ghost gear as much as possible in Cape Breton (LFA 27). This will be accomplished by:
- Communicating with our membership and community to get their knowledge on locations with lost fishing gear
- Sending technicians on fishing vessels to survey areas and collecting ghost gear onboard these vessels by using a grapple system
- Gear that is found:
1) Tagged gear will be taken to a compound in Glace Bay and fish harvesters will be contacted to come pick up their lost gear
2) Untagged gear that is useable will be donated to fish harvester or community members to be repurposed
3) Untagged gear that is unusable be sent to recycling depos and waste management to be discarded
- Mini reports of ghost gear during retrieval will be written based on data collected (e.g. amount of traps/length of rope/if ghost fishing is occurring, etc)

Our efforts 2020

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In 2020, CBFHA conducted 3 at-sea sampling trips. This project was started later in the season, so more trips were not possible due to weather. However, during these 3 trips, 10 traps were found. Ghost fishing occurred in some of the traps found, lobsters were stuck in various numbers unable to escape. There was 43 alive lobsters found in total, they were released by our technicians into the ocean. However, there were 4 dead lobsters found.

The traps that were tagged were collected by fish harvesters and the other traps are located in the Glace Bay compound to be disposed.

The mapped areas below show the locations of these at-sea surveying trips:

Figure 3. Ghost gear retrieval in Glace Bay, four traps were retrieved.
Figure 3. Ghost gear retrieval in Glace Bay, four traps were retrieved.
Figure 3. Ghost gear retrieval in Alder Point, two traps were retrieved.
Figure 3. Ghost gear retrieval in Alder Point, two traps were retrieved.
Figure 3. Ghost gear retrieval in False Bay, four traps were retrieved.
Figure 3. Ghost gear retrieval in False Bay, four traps were retrieved.

2021 Efforts

CBFHA conducted 11 at-sea ghost gear retrieval surveying trips that took place post-fishing season and ended in November. Our first step of conducting ghost gear retrievals was sending out a survey to CBFHA membership and posting on our instagram and facebook. The survey questions are as followed:

The Ghost Gear fund allowed our organization to conducted at-sea ghost gear retrievals with various captains in LFA 27. In order to complete these retrievals, a survey was emailed to members of CBFHA and posted on our social media (Instagram and Facebook) with the following questions:

  1. Which port do you fish from?
  2. In the past, where are trouble areas that you have lost fishing gear and believe there may be ghost gear accumulating (example: traps, ropes, buoys)? Please provide the name of the location- coordinates are very helpful if available.
  3. Are you interested in conducting retrieval efforts this summer? Compensation would be provided, and the projected timeframe is mid-July to October. Please leave your name/phone number/email below if interested.
  4. Do you have any comments, questions, or concerns regarding fishing gear retrieval?

* These questions can be answered at anytime by contacting our office (902)-794-2227.

The collection total of our 11 at-sea retrieval trips included cleaning the ocean of rope that was found in snarls, the total weight was 232 pounds. All the rope was untangled and was coiled to be repurposed, 68 pounds of rope was sent to St. Peters to the non-profit Tuesdays Stuff, which repurposes rope with decor. 164 pounds of rope were send via mail to Ontario to Nautical Waters which is also a non-profit that repurposes rope with decor. As well, 199 lobster traps, 160 being wooden and 39 being wired traps were retrieved. One wooden trap weighs approximately 59.5 pounds and a wired traps weights 39.7 pounds. Therefore, the weight accumulated to 10,953 pounds of traps. Each trap was throughly searched to empty the traps of any species that were inside. The following species were returned to the ocean: 413 lobsters, 41 rock crabs, 25 pounds of mussels, 4 sea ravens, 3 starfish, 2 sculpins, 1 eel, 1 green crab, and 1 triggerfish. There were dead species found in the traps due to ghost fishing as well, these include 23 lobster and 2 lump-fish. Out of the 413 lobster, 229 were male, 145 were female, and 39 were berried.

Table 1. The total collection of ghost gear for the 2021 year with the date of retrieval, location, and vessel that was involved. The total number of traps were 199, 232 pounds of rope, 436 lobster and 55 by-catch species with 25lbs of mussels.

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Table 2. The total number of lobster separated by male, female, berried, and dead per retrieval trip. The total numbers include: 229 male, 145 female, 39 berried, and 23 dead.

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Below is a picture of our grapple system that used to drag on our retrieval trips for ghost gear that was unable to be seen with the naked eye or binoculars. Our system is based on the Fundy North Fisheries Association, they've had successful ghost gear retrievals since 2008.

The video below was our retrieval efforts in Englishtown using the grapple system.

During our 11 at-sea retrieval trips, we were able to do these trips at the following locations: Bay St. Lawerence, Dingwall, Englishtown, Alder Point, North Sydney, Glace Bay, Port Morien, False Bay, Main-a-Dieu, and Gabarus. Below are the locations of our trips organized by the date we did the retreival. Each picture includes the position of the first trap we retreived with the number of traps and species that were in the specific location.

Ghost Gear Trip 1 Map
Ghost Gear Trip 2 Map
Ghost Gear Trip 3 Map
Ghost Gear Trip 4 Map
Ghost Gear Trip 5 Map
Ghost Gear Trip 6 Map
Ghost Gear Trip 7 Map
Ghost Gear Trip 8 Map
Ghost Gear Trip 9 Map
Ghost Gear Trip 10 Map
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Figure 5. Google earth view of the complete 11 at-sea retrieval trips starting at Bay St. Lawrence and ending in Gabarus. Green pinpoint indicates trip 1, white pinpoint indicates trip 2, yellow pinpoint indicates trip 3, blue pinpoint indicates trip 4, black pinpoint indicates trip 5, red pinpoint indicates trip 6, purple indicates trip 8 and 9, and orange indicates trips 10 and 11.