Cooke Seafood, Clearwater at bottom of rankings in new report on ‘ghost gear’ and its harm to fisheries

by Charles Mandel

After receiving a failing mark last year for how it deals with abandoned and lost fishing gear, High Liner Foods moved up a tier and is even cited for a best practice in a second annual report dealing with the problem of "ghost gear."

The other two Canadian companies, Clearwater Seafoods and Cooke Seafood, both landed at the bottom of the rankings for poor practices around abandoned and lost fishing gear.

All three Canadian companies, along with a number of international fishery firms, were cited in the report titled Ghosts Beneath the Waves that the World Animal Protection released on March 21. In all, 25 global seafood companies are ranked in the report's second edition.

The report says that fishing gear, which is often made from durable plastic, can last in the ocean for up to 600 years. World Animal Protection now estimates that at least 800,000 tonnes of discarded fishing gear is lost or left in the waters every year.

"Designed specifically to trap and kill, lost fishing gear is thought to be the most harmful form of marine debris. Animals are four times more likely to be impacted by fishing gear through entanglement than all other forms of marine debris combined," the report contends.

Entanglement has been recorded for over 200 species of marine vertebrate animals, according to the report. "But this is likely to be a considerable underestimate of the true picture as most entanglements go unwitnessed and unrecorded."

The 25 seafood companies in the report received rankings from one to five on their commitment to address the problem of ghost gear. Tier 1 ranked the best while Tier 5 was the worst.

Companies were ranked by criteria including policy and commitment, and implementation and reporting.

None of the ranked companies achieved Tier 1. Clearwater and Cooke both ranked in Tier 5, while Highliner moved from Tier 5 to Tier 4.

The Lunenburg-based fish processor and marketeer also was cited for best practices when it comes to certification. High Liner's wild caught fish must meet a number of criteria, including being Ocean Wise Recommended; SeaFood Watch rated Best Choice or Good Alternative; or certification that the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative recognizes.

Last year Bill DiMento, vice-president of corporate sustainability and government affairs at High Liner, told LighthouseNOW that the company was happy to meet with World Animal Protection to discuss the issue.

DiMento said at that time that it would "be appropriate" for the company to reach out to its suppliers around the world and make sure they are fishing responsibly "and remedying issues that are associated with problems in the environment."

Clearwater was fined $30,000 last fall for storing 3,800 lobster traps on the bottom of the ocean. The violation came to light after a national broadcaster published a story on the fine in early 2019.

Clearwater fishes for lobsters off of Nova Scotia's South Shore and, according to the broadcaster, had received two previous warnings about not hauling up lobster traps.

In court, according to the broadcaster, federal Crown prosecutor Derek Schnare said: "As these impact statements illustrate, the practice of leaving untended traps in the oceans represents a serious conservation risk to Canada's marine resources, both commercial and non-commercial species."

To be sure, the World Animal Protection's 2018 report found that "82% of North Atlantic right whales and 50% of humpbacks between Cape Cod (USA) and Nova Scotia (Canada) have become entangled at least once."

The North Atlantic Right Whale is currently listed as a species-at-risk.

Clearwater consistently fell into Tier 5. The company was evaluated as not being engaged in the problem; Clearwater was assessed as lacking policy and commitment to solving the issue; and seen as having no implementation or reporting to deal with ghost gear.

Among other things, the report recommends that both consumers and company investors raise sustainability issues around ghost gear to the involved companies.

As in last year's report, this year's review drew on publicly available information from company websites, CSR strategies, annual reports, shareholder information, the latest news articles and press releases, as well as information known via companies' involvement with the Global Ghost Gear Initiative itself.

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