When I first met Bourton, I was wandering around with my camera on the docks of the Maritime Museum in Vancouver. I saw a guy dressed in overalls sanding an old wooden tug boat. It had me curious, so I walked up and said hello and asked if I could take a few photos, and since that day we’ve become great friends. Not only does ‘Burt’ own a 1950’s wooden tug boat named the Ella Mackenzie, he is also a commercial diver with a passion for conservation, founding a non-profit called the Emerald Sea Protection Society who’s mission is simple, identify lost fishing gear and marine debris and clean it up… Although the solution for this problem proves itself to be more complicated than first imagined.
Flash-forward a year of many beers, joints and countless days on the water and our plan to create a documentary on the issue of lost fishing nets in the Salish Sea begins to take light… We filmed a small teaser over a week last summer in the gulf islands to drum up some support and a few weeks ago with some funding we were able to film a full-length documentary which will be aired on national television in the coming year.
So, what is a “ghost net”?
A fishing net that has been lost at sea, often times caught on a reef, or simply just bad fishing conditions leading to an accident. These nets have been lost from years of fishing along the coast, and with no accountability, they’ve been left at the bottom of the ocean to continually fish, and they don’t just fish target species down there, they fish everything from small fish, to large mammals, creating a never-ending cycle and causing huge habitat loss and economic downfalls.
Compared to the hot topic of ocean plastics, ghost nets are basically an invisible issue. They are mostly found beneath the water along with other marine debris and human waste. It really became apparent when we dove under a marina, in a cute harbour on Saltspring Island… below the marina in a short dive we found piles of debris including 2 marine batteries, a bicycle, tires, shopping carts, plastic crates and more… when we pulled up a few pieces and placed them on the dock, people were shocked that these things were lingering just below the surface of the water… for Bourton, it’s not a surprise, he sees these types of things constantly as a commercial diver… sparking him to take action.
During the filming, we managed to recover a full gill net in the Great Bear Rainforest as well as large chunks of a purse seine net off the coast of Pender Island. Both of these tasks proved to be very difficult… the gill net was only visible at low tide, and with huge tidal swings, we had a very limited time to hack it into pieces and bag it up. It took 2 days and a few people to tackle that net, leaving the crew with bloody hands from cuts and scrapes. The second net off Pender Island was technical, involving 2 vessels, a team of divers and support crew, a ROV and a limited window of time. After multiple dives to over 100 feet in a strong current, the team was only able to recover a portion of the net that spans over the length of a football field and weighs a few tonnes.
The Emerald Sea Protection Society is working hard to pull together more resources, funding and support to survey the Salish Sea for nets, and plan out the recovery, stay tuned as we cut together a full-length documentary on the project.