Salish Sea Adventures: ambitions for Eco Tourism

A working tug built right here in Vancouver in 1951, Ella was completely restored in 2006

A working tug built right here in Vancouver in 1951, Ella was completely restored in 2006

Funding is always a challenge for any not for profit organization. Our culture values things via capital but it can be difficult raise funds for things that society values, that have benefits which are difficult to see immediate returns from. ESPS works with a near invisible problem of lost fishing gear - though the visible consequences are there it's a challenge to connect the outcomes to the cause in many people's minds.

Since we began the organization we've been committed to exploring different fun raising approaches - today we are announcing the first steps towards a separate organization, Salish Sea Adventures: an eco tourism company operating around the Vancouver area. The company has been founded, and we recently purchased the very beautiful Ella McKenzie - a 1951 restored tug boat. We couldn't be happier with the vessel, which we hope we can configure for small marine tours by spring 2017 - work has begun!

A percentage of all funds raised via this for-profit company will go to funding ESPS and allow us to do the good work of net recovery while those that are paying for the services of Salish Sea Adventures will benefit very directly from the opportunity to swim, paddle-board, hike and explore islands channels and the beautiful coastal areas that British Columbia has to offer. Watch this space!

Evidence of Lost Fishing Gear in BC

By its nature - lost fishing gear is almost always hidden from view under the waves. Identifying the magnitude and location of the problem is one of our greatest challenges. One of the easy methods we have for tracking this problem however is the frequency with which lost nets and materials are washed up on the shore line, though this is inevitably a tiny minority of the overall problem we can at least be sure that where nets are more commonly found on the shoreline, there will be a larger problem nearby.

Below is an example of a lost gill net that found its way onto the shore in Nanaimo BC. The facility where the net was found does not deal with fishing vessels or fishing activities, meaning that the travel for this net between loss and washing ashore is reasonable. Lost fishing gear can be continuously mobile via ocean currents or other means such as vessel entanglement.

Lost gill net among timber piles and rip rap.

Lost gill net among timber piles and rip rap.

This net also appears to have been packaged in a refuse bag, leading us to believe that it had reached the end of its service life and was being prepped for transport to a landfill. Unfortunately the net ended up in the ocean and has been passively fishing ever since. With some closer inspection we identified several marine animals that had been entangled and were killed as a result. 

Being in the inter-tidal zone it also has the potential to continue impacting aquatic life as it spends half of the day underwater as seen in the photos below - and even when above water the potential for impacting wildlife that relies on temporary exposure of mudflats continues. 

ESPS is currently waiting for permission to access this site to remove and properly dispose of this net.

Pender Island Net Recovery

In may, members of the ESPS dive team had a unique opportunity to collaborate as part of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) with several NGO's on a net removal project close to home. Over two days our group went out into the southern waters of the Salish Sea just off of Pender Island to remove a salmon seine net that was lost over 30 years ago. This net, which was approximately 25,000 square metres was draped over an ocean pinnacle at an average depth of 80 feet. Over the years it had entangled countless marine animals as well as destroyed crucial habitat essential for maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

After two days of hard work we recovered over 4,500 pounds of the lost net. Unfortunately even after two removal projects (the Northwest Straits Initiative removed 12,500 square metres of the net in a previous project) pieces of the net still remain on the pinnacle. This project goes to show what we are up against, one lost net can potentially take several challenging and dangerous days to recover...its a dirty job but someone has to do it!

ESPS Working with Vancouver Aquarium at the International Fishackathon

Last weekend saw the international fishackathon take place at 43 locations around the world, including Vancouver Aquarium. The event is US State department initiative to support the innovative application of technology to combat issues relating to marine ecology and sustainability - developers (those who write and develop software) and researchers collaborate to attempt to provide a solution to one of 9 problem statements shared by every location around the world.

Both Bourton Scott and Gideon Jones from ESPS were invited to be involved in the weekend as mentors, judges and advice givers to help provide additional information about the context in which tools and applications would be used.

Two of the nine problem statements related to abandoned fishing gear - thanks to the GGGI who had submitted these for consideration, we were excited to see the possible tools that could be helpful in mapping the distribution of the gear.

9 problems, 14 teams of coders 48 hours to get it done

As part of the judging team all of us at ESPS were incredibly impressed with the solutions that the various teams came up with to a wide range of issues in such a short time. The winning group created an app for android and iOS that allows the size of any fish to be measured by a smartphone taking a picture of it. This was a great response to the problem that the team chose to take on, which was to support both fishers and researchers in the field when surveying their catches. With a global database, location and species matching integrated into the application - while simple in purpose the possibilities for big data analysis of fish populations globally are fantastic.

The Global Ghost Gear Initiative were lucky to have 2 problem statements included in the options available for consideration by the hackers

Third place went to a team that developed an app that allowed anyone from recreational users to professional surveyors to report abandoned fishing gear to a global database. The app allows people to not only use GPS to mark the area they found the gear, but walks them through identification of the different features of net types or crab pots. ESPS is looking forward to working with this team to integrate the app into a web based version that we'll host on our website, as well as distributing the mobile app to communities around BC. Congratulations to all who took part and thanks again to Vancouver Aquarium for inviting us along for the fun.

The team that worked on the ghost gear location app is awarded third place, presented by Jonathan Hultquist (Vancouver Aquarium) and Gideon Jones (ESPS)

The team that worked on the ghost gear location app is awarded third place, presented by Jonathan Hultquist (Vancouver Aquarium) and Gideon Jones (ESPS)