Completed ALDFG Projects

Table 1. Summary of ALDFG- and ghost gear–related projects captured through the survey, listed by organization. The survey was open from July to October of 2019. Note that contacts are subject to change over time.

OrganizationContact Location/ScopeProject Title
Association des crabiers acadiensRobert HachéSouthern Gulf of St. LawrenceLost snow crab fishing gear retrieval by means of grappling high-density fishing locations without sonar identification in the Southern Gulf of St-Lawrence (SGSL)
Association de gestion halieutique autochtone Mi’gmaq et MaléciteCatherine Lambert KoizumiBay of Paspébiac (Bay of Chaleurs – Gaspé Peninsula, Québec)Cleaning of an aquaculture site in Paspébiac
Clean FoundationSonia SmithNova ScotiaShip-to-Shore
Dalhousie UniversityAlexa GoodmanBay of Fundy, Nova Scotia and New BrunswickGhost Gear and ALDFG research in the Bay of Fundy
Coastal ActionAlexa GoodmanNova Scotia, South Shore (LFA 33, 34 and 35)Southwest Nova Scotia Abandoned, Lost and Discarded Fishing Gear (ALDFG) Remediation Project
The Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaqKate NelsonMi’kma’ki TerriroriesKeskaqowey Apuktuk Memjewey Mi’kma’ki (Ghost Gear in Mi’kmak’i)
World Wildlife Fund CanadaChelsea BoalerGilbert Bay Marine Protected Area, LabradorGilbert Bay Marine Protected Area and Ghost Fishing


Completed Projects

Below are profiles of completed projects as captured in the online survey. The major take-aways can be seen as valuable contributions to ALDFG knowledge.

Association des crabiers acadiens Lost snow crab fishing gear retrieval by means of grappling high-density fishing locations without sonar identification in the Southern Gulf of St-Lawrence (SGSL)

Location/Scope: Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence (SGSL); Crab Fishing Area 12 (CFA 12)

This project aimed to locate and retrieve lost fishing gear from Crab Fishing Area 12 (CFA 12) in the SGSL to increase knowledge of procedures that can be used to clean the seafloor. The project’s activities focused on designing and constructing a ghost-gear retrieval device, choosing areas with a high density of ghost gear, and conducting blind grappling activities at sea. The aim was to produce a list of recommendations on the preferred approach for detecting ghost gear, along with an improved grappling procedure for future efforts.

Goals and Objectives: 

The objective of this project was to receive input from stakeholders on methods and challenges encountered in using blind grappling to retrieve ghost gear from the seafloor. Feedback from stakeholders will assist DFO Program Managers in identifying possible future gaps and issues that may need consideration during the delivery of the newly announced Sustainable Fisheries Solutions and Retrieval Support Contribution Program.

Major Take-Aways:

  • Ghost Gear Retrieval Device – A custom-designed effective retrieval device:

o   The drag should remain small and light enough for safe handling on a mid-shore crab vessel.

o   The width of the drag should be optimized.

o   The drag should work regardless of which side of it falls on the seabed.

o   The drag should be adapted to secure the ropes and traps hooked on it until hauled to the deck of the vessel.

  • Assessment of ghost-gear retrieval area – Due to budget constraints, it was important to choose a high-yield grappling area, demonstrating the project’s effectiveness. Choice was based on three (3) major inputs:

o   record of traps reported lost to DFO by fishers during the 2019 fishing season

o   DFO-produced distribution maps of snow crab fishing efforts from 2010 to 2018

o   snow crab fishers’ long fishing experience in the Southern Gulf of St-Lawrence

  • Blind Retrieval Results – Twenty (20) nautical miles were passed over with a drag of 4.3 m wide. A total of 125 kg of ghost gear was collected, including a snow crab trap and a small gillnet. Lost in 2015, the trap had a semi-floating rope still attached to it with a small secondary buoy. The total weight of all plastics recovered was 45 kg, a figure determined by subtracting the assumed weight of the steel frame (80 kg) from the total weight of all the ghost gear recovered.
  • Proposed Retrieval Procedures – The recovery of fishing gear in the ocean is a difficult process. Problems fall into two categories: first, finding the ghost gear; and second, retrieving it. For future efforts, it is suggested that side-scan sonars be used to identify lost crab gear. In addition, a machine-learning algorithm could eventually be trained to automatically flag the locations of gear from a side-scan signal. Creating this map would improve the retrieval process, making it possible to completely clear the seafloor. It would also be helpful to have a team dedicated to mapping areas that are considered to have a lot of lost fishing gear. This would help direct the efforts of teams doing the retrieval, and as a whole would render the retrieval efforts much more efficient.

Successes and Lessons Learned: 

  • Proposed procedure for setting the drag using a pulley and boom:

o   Deploy the safety line buoy and let the rope uncoil as the vessel keeps moving forward.

o   Lift the retrieval device and hold it above the water’s surface.

o   Once the safety line is fully uncoiled, the retrieval device can be lowered in the water.

o   When there is enough slack in the retrieval line, the pulley can be moved, and the rope can be attached to the deck at the desired length. A ratio of at least three to one is recommended.

o   Dragging should be done at the boat’s slowest speed, around 2 to 3 knots.

  • Proposed procedure for hauling:

o   Begin hauling the retriever, using a slower rate of ascent.

o   Watch for signs that indicate the kind of gear being hauled (trap, multiple traps, semi-floating rope, nets, etc.).

o   Secure the drag and gear to the deck before trying to free them. Prepare quick loops and attach points ahead of time.

o   Bring retrieved items on deck one thing at a time. Cut lines if needed and haul ghost gear slowly, as rope is likely to be weak. Safety should be the first priority. If the situation becomes dangerous, it might be necessary to give up on the recovery.

Notable Challenges: The project confirmed the fishers’ assessment of the problem: it is very difficult to grapple without some visualization of ghost-gear locations since the retriever has to pass exactly over the lost gear in order to be able to haul it to the surface. While the experiment allowed the project to develop a much more efficient retrieval device, the next phase is to conduct a broader project that uses side-scan sonar to map the lost gear in Area 12 of the Southern Gulf of St-Lawrence.

Association de gestion halieutique autochtone Mi’gmaq et Malécite – Cleaning of an aquaculture site in Paspébiac

Location/Scope: Bay of Paspébiac (Bay of Chaleurs – Gaspé Peninsula, Québec)

Seafloor surveys were conducted using sonar, and underwater structures needing to be removed were identified. A team of divers and a fishing boat proceeded to remove several tons of ghost gear (mostly aquaculture lines and ropes) over 12 days of field work during the summer of 2019.

Goals and Objectives: 

  • Clean up and reclaim a previously abandoned aquaculture site in the Bay of Paspébiac. This site had been used over the past two decades, leaving lines and other structures on the seafloor. As the hope is to use the site to grow kelp, it needs to be cleaned. 
  • Remove the underwater structures to reduce risk of entanglement with marine life and reduce safety hazards for boats and other users.

Major Take-Aways: Removing the gear and tangled lines was a long and difficult task. Some marine life (mollusks, kelp) had grown on the ropes, making them heavier and bulkier.

Successes and Lessons Learned: This was a great collaborative project. It was support by the local fisheries association (Association des pêcheurs professionnels du sud de la Gaspésie) and the provincial and federal governments (MAPAQ and DFO).

Notable Challenges: Most of the site was covered. However, as retrieval took longer than anticipated and the diving team had limited availability, a few ropes were left in the water after the 12-day removal effort. Removing ropes with the fishing boat was not easy, and a few equipment adjustments were needed for proper and safe practices. The removed waste smelled foul. Workers complained of a sickening smell when they worked to fill the same container at the wharf over a few days of summer heat.

Clean Foundation Ship-to-Shore

Location/Scope: Nova Scotia

Clean’s Ship-to-Shore program began as a pilot in 2008 with the objective of addressing waste-management practices in Nova Scotia’s commercial fishing industry.  The program emerged from concerns about waste management, including improper waste-disposal practices by fishers at sea and on land, as well as problematic waste practices at fishing harbours.  

As a result of vessel and harbour waste-management issues, concerned stakeholders formed a Marine Waste Management Committee and partnered with Clean to develop and deliver the Ship-to-Shore program in Nova Scotia.

Goals and Objectives: The goal of the program was to create stewardship initiatives to improve waste-management practices in the commercial fishing industry, with the following outcomes:

  • Reduce the amount of waste that is disposed of by fishers at sea.
  • Divert recyclable and organic harbour authority fishing waste from landfills.
  • Improve how waste is managed by harbour authorities in Nova Scotia.

Major Take-Aways: 

  • Harbour authorities understand the need for improvement.
  • Harbour authorities are now knowledgeable about best practices to improve waste management at the harbour.
  • Commercial fishers are knowledgeable about the impact of fishing waste items on the marine environment.
  • Commercial fishers are aware of the best practices for sorting and storing waste on fishing vessels.
  • There is an improved understanding of barriers to/benefits of returning waste to shore and recycling.

Successes and Lessons Learned: 

  • Engaged over 166 fishing harbours on waste-management issues.
  • 94% of participating harbours have adopted at least one requirement of waste management.
  • Directly engaged over 4,000 fishers.
  • Received more than 600 pledges from fishers to endorse the campaign “Garbage. I Bring It Back.”
  • Developed the Marine Waste Management Stewardship Toolkit.
  • Delivered more than 125 boat bins and vessel-waste assessments.
  • Completed more than 150 fisher waste-management surveys.
  • Received the 2012 Mobius Awards of Environmental Excellence for Waste Reduction Education Program of the Year.

Notable Challenges: It is hard to meet face to face with all the fishers as they do not all attend meetings or have an interest in education.

Dalhousie University – Managing abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear in the Bay of Fundy lobster fishery

Location/Scope: Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick

ALDFG causes economic losses to fishers and poses safety hazards to marine fauna. Thirty-two lobster fishers and five individuals from fisheries management agencies were interviewed from the Bay of Fundy (BoF) to determine how to mitigate risk to marine fauna from ALDFG. Results show that across four lobster fishing areas within the BoF, fishers regularly lost gear each season, and this gear was often not retrieved. Although fishers informally notified each other of gear losses and sometimes returned retrieved gear to owners, they avoided retrieving old and unidentifiable gear, because possession of this gear is prohibited under their licence conditions. Interviews identified specific reporting, regulatory and community-based solutions to help estimate the extent of ALDFG and manage the problem. To manage ALDFG and mitigate its effects, it is necessary to legalize gear retrievals and establish waste management systems.


Goals and Objectives: Assess the magnitude of impacts and possible policy solutions.

Major Take-Aways: 

  • There is no clear estimate of how much gear remains sea.
  • There is a need to improve waste management of fishing gear as illegal discarding at sea is still practised.
  • Current policies do not allow retrieval of ALDFG.

Successes and Lessons Learned: Policy changes are required to address the issue of ALDFG. It is necessary to legalize gear retrievals and establish waste management systems.

Notable Challenges: Although fishers informally notify each other of gear losses and sometimes return retrieved gear to owners, they avoid retrieving old and unidentifiable gear. Possession of this gear is prohibited under licence conditions and disposal is challenging.