How Ghost Gear Is Harming Canadian Wildlife And What You Can Do

Plastic: We are either going to drown in it or be buried in it, it’s really that bad and Ghost Gear Is Really Harmful to Canadian Wildlife.

Today is World Oceans Day and we decided to catch up with our very good friends at World Animal Protection to find out what the issues are and how we can help.

What is Ghost Gear? 

Ghost gear is the waste left from fishing activities that now floats in our oceans and has the potential to entangle or kill the animals that live there. It is estimated in fact that for each piece of ghost gear six animals are harmed.

A Hawaiian monk seal is caught in abandoned fishing tackle off the Kure Atoll, Pacific Ocean. Photo: Michael Pitts

In Canada, this ghost gear has negatively affected seal and sea lion populations, such as the threatened Stellar Sea Lion. Whether full-grown or just pups, these inquisitive animals are at risk of entanglement by both discarded nets and other debris that get wrapped around their necks, which can lead to choking and starvation.

In Canada’s oceans and along its coastline, the longest in the world, ghost gear threatens our rich and diverse wildlife.

Animals of all sizes, from whales to the endangered Loggerhead and Leatherback sea turtles, to small fish like the Brook Trout, run the risk of being entangled, injured and even killed every day.

Canada stats and topics:

  • Canada is trying to be a leader in plastic pollution with an emphasis on marine plastics – a major topic at the G7
  • Canada has the longest coastline of any country in the world.
  • In the Pacific along Canada’s West Coast, stellar sea lions are a species affected most by ghost gear (seals are curious and playful making them extremely vulnerable to getting entangled).
  • In the Atlantic along Canada’s East Coast, loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles are species affected most by ghost gear.
  • In the Arctic, along Canada’s Northern Coast, Greenland sharks, narwhals, sperm whales, bowhead whales, walrus and seals are species affected most by ghost gear.

How Ghost Gear Is Harming Canadian Wildlife

Divers remove ghost gear off the coast of Pender Island, British Colombia. Photo: World Animal Protection

What is World Animal Protection doing to address this issue? 

How Ghost Gear Is Harming Canadian Wildlife

Ghost gear collected during a beach cleanup. Photo: World Animal Protection / Greg Martin

To tackle this global issue, World Animal Protection founded the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI), a cross-sectoral alliance committed to driving solutions to the problem of ghost gear worldwide.

The GGGI works to build evidence, develop best practices and inform policies, and catalyze solutions. Last year the GGGI supported a project to remove old crab traps in McIntyre Bay, British Columbia and launched a Best Practice Framework for the seafood industry and other stakeholders to prevent and mitigate the impacts of lost fishing gear and marine litter.

The GGGI’s strength lies in the diversity of its participants including governments, NGO’s, academics and fishing industry leaders with the goal of reducing the amount of ghost gear in the oceans.

Josey Kitson, Executive Director for World Animal Protection Canada, said:

“The Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) has more than 80 industry participants who are driving solutions to the problem of lost and abandoned fishing gear, from removing gear from our oceans to converting recycled nets to skateboards and swimwear. The GGGI is a platform where governments and other stakeholders come together to improve the health of marine ecosystems, protect marine animals from harm and safeguard human health and livelihoods.”

How Ghost Gear Is Harming Canadian Wildlife
Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) trapped in an abandoned drifting net in the Mediterranean sea. Photo: Jordi Chias

What is the Canadian government doing about this issue?

The Canadian government has committed to tackling the problem of marine plastics. Along with consumer and single-use plastics, the government needs to act to address ghost gear too. Accounting for 10% of all marine debris, it is one of the most deadly forms of marine litter in its likelihood to entangle, injure and kill marine wildlife.

By joining the GGGI, Canada can take a global leadership role in cleaning up 70% of macroplastics in the ocean

How Ghost Gear Is Harming Canadian Wildlife

Globally every year, more than 100,00 whales, dolphins, seals and turtles are caught in ‘ghost gear’ –  abandoned, lost and discarded fishing nets, lines and traps which can take up to 600 years to decompose. The vast majority of this gear is made of plastics that take centuries to degrade. Animals caught in this incredibly durable fishing gear then suffer a prolonged and painful death, usually suffocating or starving to death over a number of months.

A staggering 640,000 tons of fishing equipment is left in our oceans each year.

Devastating reports show that over 817 species of marine life are affected by this marine litter. Some nets lost in the oceans are enormous – far bigger than football fields-  trapping and killing marine life under the surface.

This ghost gear eventually breaks down into microplastics and can enter the human body through the fish we consume. More than a quarter of fish sold at markets in Indonesia and California now contain plastic from different sources most likely also including ghost gear.

The level of ghost gear has increased in recent years and is likely to grow further as fishing efforts intensify, creating wide-ranging problems for the marine environment and costing governments millions of dollars in clean-up expenses.

How Ghost Gear Is Harming Canadian Wildlife

A sea lion that has been injured by a gillnet. Photo: Tom Campbell / Marine Photobank

As industry and political leaders gather at two key international summits in early June, World Animal Protection is calling on governments and industry to recognize the urgent need to rid our oceans of ghost-gear death traps and join the Global Ghost Gear Initiative.

How Ghost Gear Is Harming Canadian Wildlife

Global stats and topics:
• 10% of all ocean garbage/marine debris is from ghost gear
• More than 640,000 tons of ghost gear is left in our oceans each year.
• More than 136,000 seals, dolphins, whales, turtles and other sea animals get trapped/entangled in ghost gear each year.
• Ghost gear can take up to 600 years to decompose.
• Most of this gear is made of plastics that can take centuries to degrade – and adds to marine plastics

Top 5 easy ways you can protect ocean animals:

No matter where you live, we all have a responsibility to look after our precious ocean life.  Canada has the longest coastline of any country in the world and we can all do small things to help protect our amazing ecosystems and the animals that call them home.

• Avoid single-use plastics – any form of plastic, no matter how small, can cause harm and suffering to marine life like birds, fish and turtles when they eat it or become entangled in it. Bring your own grocery bags, carry a reusable water bottle and skip the straw.

• Cut looped plastics – anything that forms a circle, like 6-pack beverage rings, plastic bag handles or packing straps from shipping boxes pose a threat to curious birds, seals and sea lions who can become entangled.

• Pick up 5 items of trash every time you go to the beach or shore – if you’re lucky enough to visit a beach or lake, pay back the favour and keep trash out of the bellies of seabirds.

• Don’t release balloons – after fishing gear, the most common material found entangled on marine life is balloons, especially those released in bunches!

• Report it if you see an entangled animal or lost fishing gear – A global network is ready to help. Contact the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to report an entangled animal.

Little things can make a big difference for the little (and huge) creatures who share our planet.  Get more tips to help animals from World Animal Protection.

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How Ghost Gear Is Harming Canadian Wildlife

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  1. Wenda White
    July 2, 2018
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      July 2, 2018

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