How fishermen are protecting whales — and helping landscapers

Giant "snarls" of lost fishing gear that pose threats to whales and cause problems for fishermen are being pulled from the Bay of Fundy and used for other purposes such as landscaping and carpets.

The "ghost gear" cleanup has been going on for about a decade, and Maria Recchia of the Fundy North Fishermen's Association says they're finding new ways to recycle the ropes, buoys and lobster traps that get lost at sea.

"We're trying to repurpose more and more of it which has been really fun," she said.

"We have landscapers calling and wanting quite a lot of traps so we're connecting them to fishermen who have backyards full of old lobster traps and they just fill them with rocks and build these really great retaining walls with them."

'Crazy currents' in Bay of Fundy

Because of the "crazy currents" in the Bay of Fundy, loose lobster traps that were tagged years ago can get tangled up with rope and newer traps and form giant snarls with as many as a dozen traps caught in them, she said.

"When we get rid of those big snarls it makes a huge difference so fishermen aren't losing gear to that."

They really love doing it because it's kind of like a treasure hunt.— Maria Recchia

At Dipper Harbour, about 45 kilometres southwest of Saint John, fishermen were recently asked to drop off their old rope so it doesn't end up back in the ocean. Recchia said people from the community were happy to find new uses for it.

"This is good rope, really strong rope, just not good enough to be trusted in the ocean," she said. "People are using it for all sorts of things, from crafts to making to these nice door mats, to camping and whatever you use rope for, so that was kind of a fun experiment."

Lost fishing gear can pose a danger to whales that get caught in it. (International Fund for Animal Welfare)

Recchia said much of the recent cleanup has focussed around Saint John Harbour and Head Harbour Passage, where fishermen often see whales when they're out hauling traps. 

"I think it can be a really moving experience for them, and the last thing they want is for these whales to be harmed by their fishing gear," she said.

'Like a treasure hunt'

Fishermen use custom grapples to haul up the heavy snarls.

She said they consider it a challenge to find and remove the ghost gear from the ocean — not just because it helps protect the whales and save their own gear from getting tangled, but also because it can go on to serve a new purpose. 

"They really love doing it because it's kind of like a treasure hunt," Recchia said.

Maria Recchia is part of the Fundy North Fishermen's Association. The gear clean-up has been going on for about a decade, and recently the ropes and traps are being turned into landscaping accessories and carpets. 9:01

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