Marine litter indicators: plastic in fish stomachs

The EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) aims to protect the marine environment by achieving Good Environmental Status (GES) throughout the region. Marine litter is addressed by Descriptor 10, which states that for GES to be achieved, "Properties and quantities of marine litter do not cause harm to the coastal and marine environment".

Plastic is a major contaminant in the marine environment that never fully biodegrades, instead photodegrading into smaller pieces that are ingested by fish and other animals in the marine environment.  Fish stomachs, should therefore provide an accurate indication of plastic levels in the marine environment and have as such been named as an indicator for GES under MSFD Descriptor 10.

OSPAR​ has requested that ICES establish a monitoring protocol that will enable the analysis of fish stomachs for plastic particles in the marine environment. Fish stomachs have previously been checked for visual plastic pieces but this overlooks microplastic particles. The resulting protocol released by ICES today is the first of its kind globally and defines the steps required in the practical work. If adopted, this protocol will establish a baseline with which to gauge whether or not trends in plastic are increasing or decreasing in the future, leading to possible management actions.

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