Clearing Your Gear, One Piece At a Time

On Wednesday July 11th, a small group of Manitoba IBA volunteers got together at Saint Ambroise Beach Provincial Park (in Delta Marsh IBA) for our inaugural beach cleanup. This event was in partnership with the excellent new Clear Your Gear Initiative, launched recently by Minister of Sustainable Development, Rochelle Squires.

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Clear Your Gear pail with logo. Photo copyright Lynnea A. Parker

This initiative was launched because many birds and other wildlife are at risk of being caught in angling material. Angling material, including hooks, floats and lines, can enter our water systems by accident. For example, line can break fairly easy, or nets can get washed away. In many cases, wildlife can become entangled, leading to suffocation, drowning or starvation. This is something that no one wants to see. Judy Robertson, an experienced wildlife rehabilitation specialist from Wildlife Haven, has been planning the Manitoba Clear Your Gear Initiative for a few years, partnering with Manitoba Sustainable Development and TransCanada. The initial focus for the project is Lockport, with its large catfish fishery being in close proximity to large concentrations of American White Pelicans. This has been modeled on an initiative from Sanibel-Captiva in Florida – they were even allowed to borrow the name!

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An American White Pelican with monofilament wrapped around its wing. This photo was taken in June at East Shoal Lake IBA. Photo copyright Lynnea A. Parker

Independently of the higher level discussions, the Manitoba IBA Program has been planning to do a workparty for a couple of years in an IBA. With the launch of Clear Your Gear, it was certainly a good time to do this, and we were delighted that they were willing to support our endeavours.

The primary intention of Clear Your Gear is to clear any monofilament line from our waterways. Monofilament, single strand fishing line, can now be recycled, and Clear Your Gear will now prepaid provide boxes to send the material to a recycling area.

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Fishing net tangled on the beach. Photo copyright Tim Poole

Last Wednesday, 9 people came together at Saint Ambroise. Our team was Barbara and Phil Barnett, Michele and Mike Tumber, Bonnie Chartier, Lynnea Parker, Sabina Mastrolonardo, Christian Artuso and Tim Poole. We split the beach into different sections: Christian, Mike and Sabina heading west towards Clandeboye; Lynnea and Michele were dropped at the east end of the beach and walking back towards the parking lot and; Barbara, Phil, Bonnie and Tim working out from the middle. Overall we probably covered around 3km and managed to collect a pretty impressive amount of material.

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Large amounts of materials were collected on the beach. Photo copyright Lynnea A. Parker

Some of the material really took some heavy lifting to remove, even needing two people to drag it together. Other materials needed to be dragged in any way possible.

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Hooking up the nets to make dragging easier. Lynnea was photographed here by Michele Tumber

The interesting factor from this cleanup was that apart from one set of hooks, almost all the angling gear taken from the beach belonged to fishing nets rather than individual line. We discovered after the fact that the ice fishing fishery of Lake Manitoba leads to many nets getting stranded following ice break. We removed more than a dozen nets from the beach itself, and left a few which were either buried, or too large to drag away. Just to labour the point about damage to wildlife, the remains of a Red-winged Blackbird were pulled from a net. The problem is fairly extensive – we only covered around 3km after all, with the IBA also including Twin Lakes and Delta Beaches.

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Remains of a Red-winged Blackbird in a fishing net. Photo copyright Sabina Mastrolonardo

As mentioned before, this was very much our inaugural and trial event. We learnt a fair few lessons. One was that we would need more heavy duty tools to cut through the ropes on the nets. We also realised that we would need a larger vehicle than any we had available to haul this material away. Indeed, it was very apparent that a truck would be required. Step in Mike and Michel, who drove the hour back to Saint-François Xavier to collect their truck and the hour back again. They loaded the truck, and then took it home for a few days, only being relieved of their load on Monday morning. Heroes!

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The team and their plunder. Photo copyright Lynnea A. Parker

We were also grateful to the very helpful guy from Manitoba Sustainable Development, who was delighted with our efforts, and let us store the gear in his compound.

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Huge amounts of waste. Photo copyright Sabina Mastrolonardo

All in all this was a very successful morning. Christian and Michele began the process of removing the cement weights and floats from the nets on the beach (if anyone would like these, please let us know). Mike and Michele continued this work at home, and sent the lead weights to a scrap metal dealer. We still have the monofilament to remove from the ropes on the nets – and if anyone would like to join us for a fund day removing this material, please let us know. There will be a small workparty in a yard in Winnipeg at some point soon.

Thank you everyone who made this into a very successful day out!