A Canadian animal welfare group has made their way to the G7 meetings in Halifax to shed some light on a little-known issue impacting oceans worldwide: ghost gear.

Ghost gear refers to fishing gear that has been lost or abandoned from fisheries around the world. The United Nations Environment Programme estimates 640,000 tons of fishing gear is lost each year, resulting in the deaths of more than 136,000 seals, sea lions and small whales annually.

The organization says the animals get trapped or entangled in the lost gear, which often leads to a slow and painful death.

“Once the gear becomes detached…it continues to do what it is made to do which is to fish and as a result of that, it’s incredibly harmful to marine animals,” Josey Kitson, executive director of World Animal Protection Canada, told CTVNews.ca on Wednesday.

World Animal Protection Canada is in Halifax this week for the G7 meetings on climate change, oceans and clean energy. The organization hopes to have all seven countries sign the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI), an alliance dedicated to finding solutions to lost or abandoned fishing gear.

“Most people are completely unaware of the harm that ghost gear causes,” Kitson said. “We hope that the Canadian government…will take action with ghost gear along with the other G7 countries that are here in Halifax.”

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans says ghost gear is “some of the most harmful and deadly debris found in oceans.” The department says it’s practically worried about the impact this kind of equipment has on endangered right whales.

“DFO is very concerned about the role fishing gear plays in right whale mortalities,” the department said in a statement. “Entanglement in fishing gear contributes to injury and/or death for many large whale species and a whale can remain entangled for years.”

Kitson says one of the biggest problems with mitigating ghost gear is that it can be so hard to track. Some lobster tags lost in Atlantic Canada have been found years later in the U.K., for example.

“Ghost gear doesn’t have any boundaries,” she said. “Once it becomes detached, it doesn’t stop at ocean borders.”

As a way of combatting the issue, the DFO patrols Atlantic Canada at the end of lobster and crab season for any lost or abandoned traps and has set up a program for quick retrieval of ghost gear in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where harvesters are required to report any lost or abandoned equipment.

Since founding the GGGI, World Animal Protection has been working to come up with effective and innovative ways to combat ghost gear.

Kitson says one strategy would be to implement a system of reporting lost gear, retrieving it and then recycling it. She says in some countries, ghost gear can be recycled into bathing suits, flip-flops and even floor mats.

DFO says it is also looking at innovative solutions to ghost gear, having recently hired an expert to look at new technology that could help prevent marine animals from getting tangled in lost equipment.

The department is urging anyone who encounters ghost gear to record its type, location, and the time it was seen before giving them a call.