Fundy North Fishermen’s Association
Canada exports one billion dollars worth of lobster annually making it their most valuable fishery. Lobster pots are lost primarily due to gear conflicts with neighbouring marine industries, and to a lesser extent to storms and gear conflicts among fishermen. These derelict 'ghost' pots continue to fish across lobster grounds. On Canada's east coast, the salmon aquaculture industry and commercial shipping industry are most commonly involved in fishing gear conflicts. In addition to ghost fishing, the ropes pose an entanglement risk to marine animals such as whales and turtles. These traps also cause damage to other vessels, with each dry docking costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in addition to lost revenue.
From 2008-2015, Fundy North Fishermen’s Association (FNFA) has been conducting a ghost trap retrieval project. Two main areas have been identified as areas of high gear loss: Saint John Harbour (an industrial port and key fishing ground) and Head Harbour Passage at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy (an important whale habitat, prime fishing ground, and area of intensive salmon aquaculture activity).
FNFA represents small-scale commercial fishermen working in species such as lobsters, scallops, groundfish, shad, gaspereau and eels. The mission statement of the association is to 'support fishermen, promote healthy fisheries and encourage viable fishing communities in Southwestern New Brunswick'.
Over the past seven years, Fundy North has undertaken a large ghost trap retrieval programme in Saint John Harbour and Head Harbour Passage, retrieving over 1,000 lost traps and other marine debris. Some of the traps retrieved were up to 20 years old. The ghost gear was retrieved using special grapnels designed by fishermen and operated from fishing vessels.
Over the past seven years, Fundy North has undertaken a large ghost trap retrieval programme in Saint John Harbour and Head Harbour Passage, retrieving over 1,000 lost traps and other marine debris. Some of the traps retrieved were up to 20 years old.
In addition to retrieving lost gear, FNFA is working closely to engage neighbouring marine industries in dialogue about ghost gear prevention. A number of new rules and protocols have been put in place in Saint John Harbour that have significantly reduced gear loss due to ship traffic. Work is ongoing with the salmon aquaculture industry to develop protocols to reduce fishing gear loss. Fundy North continues to work on educational campaigns aimed at both fishermen and workers in neighbouring marine industries.
The lobster fishery is carefully managed through regulations limiting the number of pots that can be set, the number of boats in the area, in addition to the number of days the season is open and the size of lobsters that can be kept when caught. The lobster industry has been proactive in introducing escape panels and biodegradable fasteners in lobster traps to help prevent ghost fishing if a trap is lost at sea.
FNFA has retrieved over 1000 lost lobster traps since the programme started. Their ghost trap clean-up programme led to them becoming the first ever recipient of the Gulf of Maine Council Marine Environment Industry Award in 2009 for their efforts in Saint John Harbour.
FNFA has a strong focus on protecting the fishery for future generations. The work they are doing to clean up the marine environment through ghost pot retrieval is consistent with their mission statement of promoting healthy fisheries and encouraging viable fishing communities.
The lobster fishery measure of introducing biodegradable fasteners on traps combined with Fundy North’s proactive efforts to collect ghost traps are two very effective measures that will not only help to preserve the marine environment and prevent marine animal entanglements in ghost gear, but will also assist in maintaining a sustainable lobster fishery for generations to come.
Lost fishing gear is lost income to fishermen. They must pay for new gear and they lose the revenue that trap would have generated if it fished the whole season. Also, ghost gear can kill target and non-target organisms indiscriminately leading to lower populations of commercial species. There is no incentive for fishermen to lose gear. Unlike other jurisdictions, lobster fishermen in the Canadian Bay of Fundy more often than not work collaboratively and even organise themselves to set gear in straight lines in the most heavily fished areas, in order to reduce gear loss.
Ghost gear begets more ghost gear. Fundy North fishermen have found that when a lobster trap is lost it has a tendency to move around and will snag active fishing gear. Some of the ghost gear was retrieved as huge snarls that clearly started with one lost trap catching more traps each season creating a big snarl. Once these big snarls are cleaned up, fishermen report that they don’t lose nearly as much gear anymore.
Skilled fishermen can grapnel ghost gear even in deep water and areas of high current. But it is labour and fuel intensive. It is much more cost effective to prevent gear loss as much as possible.
Regulations allowing fishermen to participate in a regular clean-up day at the end of each fishing season can be much more effective than expensive ghost gear retrieval projects.
Convenient and inexpensive disposal facilities for old fishing gear are vital to ghost gear prevention. This, coupled with education campaigns for fishermen, can nearly eradicate disposal at sea. In the Bay of Fundy, fishermen used to regularly discard their old fishing gear and even garbage at sea. But after several awareness campaigns and studies, this practice is very uncommon now and there is considerable peer pressure from other fishermen to bring all garbage ashore.
The most difficult part of the problem is engaging neighbouring marine industries that operate among fixed fishing gear. When a whale becomes entangled in fishing gear, it is traced back to a fishery or a fisherman, never to the vessel that fouled the gear. It can be difficult to convince neighbouring industries to change their practices or routes to avoid fishing gear. Increasing global awareness of the ghost gear problem may help promote cooperation among sectors for the prevention and clean-up of ghost gear.