Fish and Game Commission endorses ocean litter strategy update

Ocean Protection Council revisits 2008 policy with an updated mandate.

SACRAMENTO — California’s Fish and Game Commission (FGC) took a significant step toward addressing ocean litter by endorsing Ocean Protection Council’s document on combating and preventing ocean litter.

Ocean Protection Council presented its “California Ocean Litter Prevention Strategy: Addressing Marine Debris from Source to Sea” to commissioners at their June 20 meeting in Sacramento. Holly Wyer, the council’s marine pollution program manager, explained the state’s original strategy to address ocean litter and marine debris, which was developed in 2008, needed to be updated to be more expansive.

The 2008 strategy, for example, was agency focused, limited to lost fishing gear reporting and deposit programs, and did not mention aquaculture gear.

The 2018 update broadens the strategy’s focus and agency participation. There is an expanded focus on fishing gear and inclusion of aquaculture gear in the updated strategy, according to Wyer staff.

“The 2008 strategy was specifically geared only toward actions the agency could take to address ocean litter,” Wyer told commissioners. “In contrast, the 2018 document is geared toward a wide variety of organizations taking on actions to address this problem.”

The updated strategy’s themes focused on source reduction and prevention, control and cleanup. It is expected to be a six-year document, with webinars or conference calls held every six months and in-person workshops held every two years.


Plenty of Trash in the Sea

Ocean Protection Council, in its strategy update, estimated about 78 percent of Southern California river miles “and about one third of seafloors and seafloor sediments in the Southern California Bight contain trash.

“Plastic is the most prevalent type of litter found across all habitats in the Southern California Bight, with wrappers, bags, plastic pieces, and expanded polystyrene being the most commonly found plastic items,” the Ocean Protection Council strategy update stated. “Seventy-three water bodies throughout the State of California are listed as having impaired water quality due to the presence of large amounts of trash [according to California’s State Water Board in 2015]. The California coast and ocean are also impacted by lost fishing gear.”


Looking Ahead

Staff with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) and FGC, for example, would work on reviewing and developing aquaculture leases. CalRecycle, meanwhile, could spearhead packaging reform, according to the strategy update.

The department could also build or expand fishing gear recovery programs, while the commission might develop best management practices.

Other possible approaches to address ocean litter could include the development of safer consumer products by the Department of Toxic Substances Control and trash amendments by the State Water Board, according to Wyer.

“Ocean litter is recognized as a pervasive problem at local, regional, and global scales, with a wide range of consequences to human and marine species health, the environment, and the economy,” DFW staff stated in a report to commissioners. “The 2008 strategy served as a powerful and effective document to promote collaborative agency action on addressing ocean litter. Since 2008, many actions described in the document have either been accomplished or are in progress.”

An extensive stakeholder outreach process was conducted to craft the 2018 strategy on addressing ocean litter, Wyer told commissioners. Stakeholders were local governments, tribes and organizations active in aquaculture, conservation, education, fishing, plastics and packaging, research and waste reduction. Workshops to receive public input on ocean litter reduction strategies were held in May 2017 and November 2017.

Commissioners adopted an ocean litter prevention strategy in April. The current strategy is an update of the 2008 implementation by the state of California and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to reduce and prevent ocean litter.


Marine Debris vs. Ocean Litter

NOAA’s recent updated of its own marine debris program helped provide perspective of the current state of marine debris, hence opening the door for California to enhance its own approaches in managing or preventing ocean litter.

“Given that understanding of the ocean litter issue has changed considerably in the last decade, in 2017-2018 OPC and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Marine Debris Program partnered to update the 2008 strategy through a multi-agency and stakeholder process,” DFW staff stated in its report to commissioners. “The 2018 update expands the previous strategy to include projects at a variety of scales and scopes for collaborative efforts by government agencies, industry, academia, nonprofits, and tribes to reduce ocean litter in California.

“Notably, in contrast to 2008, the 2018 strategy recognizes fisheries and aquaculture as potential sources of debris, and identifies DFW and FGC as collaborative partners with industry practitioners in the action plan,” DFW staff continued.

The Ocean Protection Council’s priorities also focus on reducing or managing land-based ocean litter, microplastics/microfibers and fishing/aquaculture gear.

There is a distinction between marine debris and ocean litter. Marine debris, according to Ocean Protection Council, consists of “items that entered the marine environment via activities that occurred at sea”

Ocean litter, meanwhile, are foreign objects found in the water but originated from land.

“The most common ocean litter items in California are cigarette butts and food and beverage packaging,” the Ocean Protection Council’s strategy update stated.

Ocean Protection Council began working on ocean litter in 2007; its initial strategy on the issue was published one year later.

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