20 September 2008

Marine litter to worsen on a global scale

Marine litter is a global and growing problem. Here are some key issues and some ideas proposed in a recent US report.
Dragging out the nets
attempting to retrieve abandoned fishing nets on Chek Jawa, Pulau Ubin

extracts from Marine Debris Will Likely Worsen in the 21st Century Goal of Zero Waste Discharge Should Be Adopted, EurekAlert 19 Sep 08
Current measures to prevent and reduce marine debris are inadequate, and the problem will likely worsen, says a new congressionally mandated report from the National Research Council.

The United States and the international maritime community should adopt a goal of "zero discharge" of waste into the marine environment, and a system to assess the effectiveness of existing and future marine debris prevention and reduction actions should be implemented.

"The committee found that despite all the regulations and limitations over the last 20 years, there are still large quantities of waste and litter in the oceans,"

Under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) Annex V, which entered into force in 1988, many discharges from ships are permissible at sea. The committee said this approach does not encourage innovation or measures to minimize waste.

In order to discourage waste disposal at sea, ships also need to have access to adequate shoreside waste reception facilities for garbage and should be provided incentives, such as low disposal fees to use them.

The committee was specifically asked to address the challenges surrounding derelict fishing gear. While regulated under MARPOL Annex V and domestic implementing laws, it is a persistent problem because of accidental losses and legal loopholes.

Effective marking of fishing gear is critical for identifying the sources or fisheries that may have deployed the gear.

Fishery management organizations should also adopt a "no fault" policy regarding the documentation and recovery of lost fishing gear. Under this policy, local fishermen, state officials, and the public should develop cost-effective derelict fishing gear removal and disposal programs, and fishermen participating in removal efforts could receive financial credit or be exempted from landfill fees.

Help needed for fishing communities explore alternative strategies and technologies for management, disposal, and recycling of used and recovered gear.

Within the issue of derelict fishing gear, the committee also addressed the growing concern about a specific type of gear known as fish aggregating devices, which are man-made floating objects designed to simulate natural debris and attract fish. These devices pose a threat as they are allowed to float freely and are often made of waste fishing net.

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