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Trash Fishing

Updated on April 29, 2015
Gotta be proud of this, San Diego!
Gotta be proud of this, San Diego!

trash in the fishery

Trash Fishing

In a long ago place in time, people used to throw their crap in the street. Then came the plague and they built toilets and a sewer system for their crap. They found ways of disposing of their refuse in a manner that didn’t compromise their health. Mostly.


Now, with our human population so large that a small percentage of its refuse getting into the Eco-system and building over time is a plague to the natural denizens of the environment we share. As it builds and rots and seeps in, it increasingly and adversely affects our air, our water and our food supply. Even so, some feel the right to find a hiding place in nature for their waste instead of disposing of it properly; from truckloads to individual scraps and cigarette butts. One great dumping ground for these offenders is the ocean, for once beneath the surface, refuse is hard to see. People, individuals littering, cause the most visible harm to the environment followed by the industrial complex and their offenders. When exposed, any major offender in the industrial complex comes under harsh public scrutiny, yet the public is slow to admonish itself for a much worse offense- all of our offing that finds its way into the waterways and the ocean. I used to pick up the few scraps I came across when paddling the bay. Now I fill my kayak and pass more up in a short fishing trip. Mostly bags and wrappers and cigarette butts.

Here in San Diego, we have a full-scale illegal scrapping operation going on 24-7 in the streets and alleyways throughout town. There are several collection stations that pay about 80% of the value for the scrap cans, glass bottles and plastics collected illegally by those folks you see trying to make a buck by digging through the garbage cans and dumpsters everywhere they can. I feel for these people but the problem is, whether in the street on collection day or in your yard behind a fence where they are supposed to be, it is illegal to scavenge anything from trashcans or dumpsters. There are many good reasons for this rule. One good reason is that to collect scrap, the bags (your garbage is supposed to be bagged for health reasons) get torn open and the fly population explodes and the stench rises. Also, when foraged through and when dumped, bits of otherwise bagged trash float into the air and settle in the streets. A good percentage of what is in the streets makes its way into the ocean. Allowing this practice to go on also increases the public health costs, as those digging in the trash every day are more susceptible to infection and illness and most are on the doles.

Littering in general is hardly enforced. When smoking was banned in bars and restaurants, the cigarette butts in the beach communities started piling up in the streets in front of the bars. They would then get washed into the ocean by way of the storm drains and re-deposited on the beach by the tides. Add to that all the butts tossed out by drivers and pedestrians everywhere in the city. So the City Council acted rashly and ignorantly banned smoking on the beach. I am all for the effort, but it is a misplaced and discriminatory law; especially considering the lack of enforcement on littering in general and the lack of any evidence that smoking in an outdoor, breezy environment causes any harm to others. It is about the butts on the beach, not the smokers on the beach. They’ve banned smoking in all public parks, places and ways. So now, those parking lots adjacent to public places are full of butts. Hardly an ashcan provided or tended anywhere only exasperates the issue.

A fine for smoking on the beach does nothing toward cleaning up the beaches, and if it is about the ”offensive smell”, well, many of the scents at the beach, both natural and human, can be offensive. If it is about litter, then enforce and embolden those rules already in place. Make people put their bins away and lock their dumpsters. Administer the anti- scavenging rules. Strictly enforce littering laws and increase the fines enough to make the point succinctly.

I enjoy the ocean and all it has to offer. San Diego lives and breathes by the ocean and I commend those fighting hard to protect it, but I wish the focus would be reality-based instead of politically-based. Nobody wants to be the bad guy and stop the scrapping by the poor or oppose politically driven campaigns that make no sense other than an uninformed poll. What politician has the chutzpah to oppose the numbers, even if those numbers are manipulated by misinformation? Nobody wants to fine a kid’s parents outside the local 7-11 because junior just ripped the wrapper off the candy and let it fly. Somebody needs to.

It might be nice someday to kayak the bay without hauling pounds of trash back with me. My fishing partner and I kayak fish the bay often and have an ongoing private wager on big fish and number of fish caught. Sadly, as the years have passed, we have added a “who gets the most trash” bet. -Daniel S. Powell

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