This file photo shows some of the ocean debris collected by volunteers on Denman Island in 2018.

Vancouver Island MP encouraged by Ghost Gear Fund

Courtenay-Alberni’s Johns says more needed, but ocean clean-up projects will be ‘transformational’

It may not be a large chunk of change in the scheme of things, but Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns is encouraged by an $8.3 million federal contribution to clean up ocean debris.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) recently announced that 26 groups will benefit from the Ghost Gear Fund, referring to lost and abandoned fishing gear, which is one of the largest contributors to marine litter.

READ: Shellfish industry get funds to clean up Baynes Sound and beyond

“It’s a drop in the bucket, but it’s a drop that we didn’t have five years ago,” said Johns, the NDP Critic for Fisheries and Oceans. “All of these groups are working hard to create awareness and education, but wanting change from the top in terms of regulations and legislation in Ottawa — and also looking for funding…This program was a result of our motion (M151) and a result of our work collaboratively. We’re ecstatic to see the money finally starting to flow.”

The disappointing part, he said, is the size of the fund, noting 22 of 90-plus applications were approved in Canada. Four international projects were approved.

“It shows that it was way over-prescribed. We hope it will lead to further funding as they see the results.”

Johns expects some of the projects will be “transformational.” The Ocean Legacy Foundation, for instance, plans to build pilot ocean plastic collection depots in Tofino and Powell River.

“We hope they’ll lead to significant change, but at the same time we need to change regulations and policy when it comes to ghost gear.”

He implores Canada to consider the leadership shown in Oregon and Washington. In the last 13 years, he said nearly 6,000 large fishing nets have been removed in Washington, saving about 12,000 marine animals each year.

The fishing industry says five to 30 per cent of overall species in the biomass is trapped in derelict gear.

“It’s a significant cost to the commercial fishing industry,” Johns said, noting a voluntary program in Washington allows people to report lost gear and nets.

“That no-fault approach has helped fishers voluntarily share what they’re doing.”

As part of the COVID-19 response, the Small Ship Tour Operators Association of BC has pitched an idea for marine debris removal.

“They have the equipment, and they could be working this fall, but as we know, there’s no envelope right now that works quickly for the federal government to respond,” Johns said.

“We’re continuing to monitor how this program (Ghost Gear Fund) will roll out,” he added. “We do need to see better traceability, better marking of gear and better tagging of gear. No one wants to lose their gear. It’s expensive, they care deeply about the ocean.”

Illegal fishers, on the other hand, will cut their nets when caught or under surveillance.

“That’s a whole different issue,” Johns said. “Canada needs to really step up its game on illegal fishing.”

The federal government has set a target to protect 25 per cent of our oceans by 2025, working toward 30 per cent by 2030.

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