A Walk Amongst the Ghost Gear: My Personal Encounter with One of the World’s Biggest Pollutants

By Draco Dunphy

As I strolled through lush forest, one bright and sunny day, 

I chanced upon a barachois– a pool where river meets the bay.

And much to my confusion, moreover to my dismay, 

The beach was covered in fishing gear, the nearest township 15 miles away.

Nets and traps strewn about, and tattered on the shore. 

Buoys, ropes and lobster pots, battered, broke and tore.

It leads me to ask, what happened? And, how did this occur? 

Well, lend your ear and listen friend, and this topic we’ll explore.

A Barachois in Newfoundland. Barachois is a term used in some parts of the world to describe a type of coastal lagoon separated or partially separated from the ocean by a single bar of sand or rock.

It would seem that I had myself an encounter with what is known as abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) that had washed up on the beach. ALDFG is more commonly known as Ghost Gear, and it was first brought to awareness as a global issue in 1985 at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Committee on Fisheries

It can arise from events ranging from storms & currents to intentional disposal & abandonment, and due to the synthetic materials used in designing modern fishing to withstand the harsh marine environment, ghost gear can last hundreds to thousands of years— breaking into smaller and smaller pieces before ending up as microplastics. Ghost gear has been estimated to constitute between 10-20% of marine litter globally with an approximate 640,000 tonnes entering the ocean every year.

Ghost gear can be more difficult to see than most other forms of plastic waste in the ocean; hence the name, ghost gear. Unfortunately, ghost gear continues to fulfill its purpose in catching marine life even after being abandoned or lost. This phenomenon is called ghost fishing and accounts for 5-30% of harvestable fish being caught worldwide.

Ghost Gear from Victoria Mines Beach Cleanup in Nova Scotia

Because ghost gear can last a long time in an intact condition, it can also have the tragic side effect of making self-baiting traps. Animals can become trapped in ghost gear, attracting scavengers and predators to feed on the trapped creature— only to become stuck themselves in the process— creating a terrible cycle.

Fortunately, there are many groups fighting to stop ghost gear right now. The Government of Canada has put a big push to stop ghost gear since 2018, joining the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, mandating the reporting of lost gear and creating the Ghost Gear Fund!

The Ghost Gear Fund is an initiative which was designed to financially support harvesters and coastal communities with ghost gear retrieval operations, and also supports ghost gear research and the development of new technologies to prevent ghost gear from being created in the future. At the end of 2021, the ghost gear fund had financed 49 projects!
In the international community, the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) is an international alliance composed of Governments, NGOs, academic institutions and private entities dedicated to creating solutions to the ghost gear problem as well as sharing policy and best practices. Some notable members of the GGGI are the Government of Canada, Norway, Sweden, the UK and the United States, as well as the WWF, University of Victoria and the Cape Breton Environmental Association!

You can learn more about ghost gear efforts nationally from the Department of Fisheries and Ocean and globally at the Global Ghost Gear Initiative’s website!

Draco is a Mi’kmaw youth from Ktaqamkuk (The Island of Newfoundland), and an interdisciplinary student studying linguistics, economics and public policy at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador. Draco is working with CaNOE as an Indigenous Intern in Partnership with the Marine Institute in the Summer of 2022, and he has a deep passion for the land and all of the relations we share creation with.