This group cleans up fishing gear scattered by Fiona in Newfoundland and breathes new life into it |  Radio-Canada News

This group cleans up fishing gear scattered by Fiona in Newfoundland and breathes new life into it | Radio-Canada News

A group standing near a large pile of ropes and nets on a dock.  A yellow tractor is in the background.
Crew members of the Atlantic Oceans Health Initiative team stand above one of the largest catches in the ocean. (Atlantic Ocean Health Initiative/Facebook)

Post-Tropical Storm Fiona cleanup efforts continue on the southwest coast of Newfoundland nearly two months after the storm devastated the region, but one group is focusing its efforts on the fishing industry.

A non-profit group based in Gros Morne National Park is collecting lost fishing gear littered along the southwest coast so they don’t become ‘ghost gear’ – fishing gear lost or left behind in the ocean that can become a hazard to the environment and marine life.

Many fishermen in the area lost their gear when the storm surge picked up and scattered pieces of sheds along the coast.

“So far we have just over 7,000 pounds in about 10 days of transport. This is much more than expected,” said Ian Stone, team leader of the Atlantic Healthy Oceans team. Initiative (AHOI).

“We set a target of 10,000 pounds in 20 days and it’s 7,000 in 10 days. It’s definitely exceeded what we thought was possible, but there’s definitely a lot of work to be done.”

AHOI applied for and received funding from DFO to complete the work until March. Stone is co-owner of a business called Tour Gros Morne. The two parties partnered for the initiative with funding of approximately $70,000.

The crew also works with diver Shawn Bath, who leads the Clean Harbors Initiative and has been cleaning harbors for years with donation money.

A large pile of intertwined ropes sitting on a patch of grass.
Cleanup continues from post-tropical storm Fiona along the southwest coast of Newfoundland. (Atlantic Ocean Health Initiative/Facebook)

Stone said his crew found a bit of everything in the water, from ropes to traps, lobster traps to salmon nets, after fishing sheds were completely swept from shore in the late September storm.

“We sometimes find an engine or two. That’s been interesting. Of course, we also find things that were thrown into the ocean long before Fiona’s fury hit,” he said.

The crew sets its goals days in advance.

Stone said they were trying to reach local fishermen who showed them where their shed and gear was before the storm and where they might have ended up. From there, Stone and his team get to work.

When they find undamaged material, they try to return it to its owner. Unusable equipment is recycled by a New Brunswick company called PLAEX Building Systems, which melts down plastic netting to create eco-friendly bricks for construction.

A pile of ropes lies on a trailer pulled by a gray vehicle.  In the background, a blue house.
The crew of the Atlantic Healthy Oceans Initiative is removing thousands of pounds of lost fishing gear from the ocean along the southwest coast of Newfoundland. (Atlantic Ocean Health Initiative/Facebook)

“Our most successful comeback is usually the lobster pots, these still have the ropes inside and many are still in reusable condition,” Stone said.

“We’re going to ship a lot of the rope material and netting and so on to New Brunswick to be reused. So this is all going to be a first time for this sort of thing. For us, we’re really kind of laying down the ground rules for what can happen to fishing gear rather than it ending up in landfills.”

Cleanup work will continue throughout the winter.

Stone said remotely operated vehicles, known as ROVs, will come into the fold this spring to help map the area where the team is focusing its efforts.

“We can only estimate that there are probably tens if not hundreds of thousands of pounds of gear that have been lost. This is certainly a long term initiative, and fortunately DFO is okay with that,” Stone said.

“There is additional funding that is supposed to come out from 2023 to 2024. Unfortunately, the storm will really live underwater for many years to come.”

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