33 tonnes of ghost gear pulled from Nova Scotia shores last year, group says

Workers with Coastal Action gathered lobster traps and rope during a ghost gear cleanup on shore in Neils Harbour, N.S., in early December. (Matthew Molyneux/Coastal Action - image credit)
Workers with Coastal Action gathered lobster traps and rope during a ghost gear cleanup on shore in Neils Harbour, N.S., in early December. (Matthew Molyneux/Coastal Action - image credit)

Workers with the environmental non-profit group Coastal Action collected more than 32 tonnes of lost fishing gear from Nova Scotia last year — most of it after post-tropical storm Fiona hit.

Project co-ordinator Zora McGinnis said the majority of the traps and rope — just under 18 tonnes — were recovered from waters off South Shore communities in the province's largest and most lucrative lobster fishing zone.

The group also collected just under four tonnes of gear along the shoreline between Chester and Digby, and nearly 11 tonnes along the shoreline of Cape Breton Island.

In total, the group found 437 lobster traps and 3.7 kilometres of rope in Cape Breton, with four tonnes gathered in a couple of coves near Louisbourg.

Just over 2.4 tonnes of gear was collected in the northern Cape Breton community of Neils Harbour alone.

"They were really, really hard hit by Fiona, so we weren't surprised that there was so much to be found there," McGinnis told Information Morning Cape Breton on Monday.

"Little Lorraine, the two coves there, [we collected] almost 4,000 kilos combined for those two coves, so they were pretty hard hit as well."

Trap tags really travel

A few of the traps found dated back to the 1980s, she said.

"One of the more remarkable things that we found up in Neils Harbour weren't traps but the trap tags — the plastic tags," McGinnis said.

"And we found some from several different lobster fishing areas in Newfoundland and from [Prince Edward Island] and New Brunswick, so it's just a testament for just how far trash in the ocean can travel in our area."

The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans funds the cleanup of so-called ghost gear, which is another term for abandoned, lost or discarded fishing material.

Some of it is recycled and the rest goes to the dump, McGinnis said.

"This time around, I think most ended up in the landfill, but all the metal traps are going to be recycled," she said.

"We did find a pretty high proportion of tagged and reusable traps, which we returned to DFO, and they will be doing their best to reunite those traps with their owners."

Most of the ghost gear collected along the South Shore was retrieved from the water by hiring lobster boats and using grappling hooks to drag the bottom, McGinnis said.

More cleanups coming this year

The efforts at sea resulted in nearly 18 tonnes of traps, rope, dragger cable and other trash being removed. That included 587 traps, 5.3 kilometres of rope and 2.4 kilometres of dragger cable.

The group found many dead lobsters, but was also able to release 303 live lobsters.

Coastal Action, based in Mahone Bay, has applied for funding to do more cleanups this spring.

McGinnis said they have a number of shoreline cleanups planned in Cape Breton and are hoping to get offshore with lobster boats out of Chéticamp on the western side of the island.

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