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Malahat Nation surveying discovers ‘huge amount’ of ghost gear polluting local waters

Surveys will continue using a remotely operated vehicle and sonar in the nation’s territorial waters

After a year of surveying, scouring and salvaging, the Malahat Nation is continuing to tackle the issue of ghost gear left discarded in its territorial waters.

The Malahat First Nation received $330,000 in federal funding to purchase a remotely operated vehicle to survey its territorial waters in the Saanich Inlet and Gulf Islands. That vehicle allowed them to find and map discarded ghost gear – fishing gear that has been lost and left behind – as well as other waste, to plan cleanup operations.

“A big takeaway is that there is not only a lot of ghost gear but a huge amount of other human debris and plastics on the ocean floor,” Desiree Bulger, manager of environmental projects for Malahat Nation, wrote in an email. “We didn’t have to go far before finding evidence of garbage. Another takeaway is that retrieving gear is an intensive and time-consuming process, so prevention of ocean pollution is key.”

In November, the nation’s environment team completed the first ghost gear retrievals using a permit with Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Recovered gear included drifting fishing floats, derelict prawn and crab traps, and fishing rope tangled on the ocean floor. A number of fish, crabs and other creatures were caught in the gear, with the environment team able to return a number to the water.

The gear was sorted and the nation tried to return items to their original owner, although Bulger said, “almost all gear has been broken, (was) unusable, and does not have to identify information.”

Some of the material was recycled, like the metal frames of shellfish traps. Bulger added that other projects in the ghost gear program are working on developing more recycling capacity in B.C. for recovered ghost gear.

Moving forward, the nation plans to continue working on mapping ghost gear locations – both using the vehicle and with sonar this winter – and doing retrievals until the funding ends in 2024. They will also test methods to move gear from deeper waters like in the Saanich Inlet. Bulger said the nation hopes to find funding to keep the program going on beyond 2024.

“Regardless of funding, Malahat members will continue stewardship of the lands and waters to support ecosystem health as they have since time immemorial.”

Bulger said ways fishers can prevent ghost gear is reporting lost gear, retrieving gear prior to big storms and marking gear properly to ensure it can be returned if lost.

READ MORE: Malahat Nation working to remove ‘ghost gear’ from Salish Sea


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