What’s the Difference?
Debris in the water that was not deliberately thrown overboard, often as a result of a shipwreck or accident.
Debris that was deliberately thrown overboard by a crew of a ship in distress, most often to lighten the ship’s load.
The Important Distinction
Under maritime law, the distinction is important. The original owner may claim flotsam, whereas jetsam may be claimed as the property of whoever discovers it. If the jetsam is valuable, the discoverer may collect proceeds from selling the salvaged objects.
Unfortunately, the majority of the trash and debris that covers our beaches and floats in our ocean is not flotsam or jetsam. It comes from storm drains and sewers, as well as from shorelines and recreational activities such as picnicking and beachgoing. Abandoned or discarded fishing gear is a major problem because this trash can entangle, injure, maim, and drown marine wildlife and damage property.