More than 50 lobster traps were recovered and hundreds of lobsters liberated recently in a joint gear retrieval effort involving local fishers and staff from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard.
Between 35 and 40 Western Gulf Fishermen Association (WGFA) members, some with a second captain onboard, sailed their boats out into Lobster Fishing Area 24 waters on Juy 5, two days after their spring lobster fishing season ended, to assist the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in a search for lost gear.
Some of the traps recovered were full of lobsters, said Francis Morrissey, acting president of the Western Gulf Fishermen Association.
“This is an important initiative,” he said.
The fishermen helped recover gear left behind when the season closed on July 3. Morrissey said the recovered traps and rope represent gear that went missing during the fishing season.
Fishermen are required to report missing gear, and they can face charges under the Fisheries Act if they fail to do so.
The WGFA has been assisting Fisheries and Oceans Canada with post-season gear retrieval for about a dozen years. Morrissey said this year they had one of the best participation rates ever.
Getting the gear out of the water prevents traps from fishing long after the season ends, a situation known as ghost fishing.
The gear removal also reduces the possibility of other creatures, including sea turtles and endangered North Atlantic right whales, getting caught up in the rope from the lost gear.
It can be easier to find lost gear after the season when all the other gear has been removed from the water, said Morrissey.
Besides the WGFA members, Fisheries and Oceans staff were assisted by fishermen from Lennox Island to French River. With the extra sets of eyes on the water, Fisheries and Oceans Canada personnel were able to recover 59 lobster traps and one gill net. All the gear was taken into fisheries officers’ possession.
“The removal of unretrieved or 'ghost fishing' gear from our waters is of utmost importance to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to ensure the conservation of fish species including marine mammals and a sustainable fishery,” said a statement from the department.
Joining the operation were 11 fishery officers and three Canadian Coast Guard staff from the Alberton, Summerside and Charlottetown offices. They utilized four DFO vessels and the Canadian Coast Guard patrol vessel, S Dudka.