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No-guilt fishing is here: WA company invents plastic-free bait system

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A West Australian company has developed new burley and lobster bait boxes to let anglers and crayfishers go plastic-free, paving the way for cleaner fishing in a plastic-filled world.

WA has about 750,000 recreational fishers and 52,000 licenced recreational crayfishers with roughly 140,000 of them fishing from boats. And each year West Australians make about 400,000 recreational fishing boat trips.

Recfishwest gave the burley boxes a go on Tuesday morning. CREDIT: JAMES FLORISSON, RECFISHWEST.

And all the bait they use - mulies, mullet, tuna heads, prawns - is covered in plastic, be it bags or vacuum-sealed plastic liners.

That’s a lot of plastic entering the system, either ending up in landfill or even being whipped by the wind from a jetty or deck and into our oceans and waterways where wildlife can mistake it for food or get trapped in it, meeting an early death.

WA bait and seafood supplier Mendolia decided things had to change, came up with the idea of the bait blocks and partnered with Recfishwest to develop a product that did away with plastic bags and lining.

Burley Boxes are made using waste from sardines, which Mendolia catch themselves, frozen inside a 1-kilogram biodegradable box the size of a house brick.

They require no plastic for sale or transport, arriving in tackle stores stacked in cartons of 12, then sold individually for less than $5.

They can serve as bait, burley or can go directly into craypots where the cardboard cover will disintegrate harmlessly in the water.

Recfishwest's Tim Grose said the sardines, also known as mulies, were a versatile bait.

“They’re not a bloody, stinky or messy product, like tuna heads for example, which can be pungent and really need that plastic lining. This is a nice neat product when frozen," he said.

“And it’s a cheap option, there’s no rubbish and it’s frozen fresh so you know it’s good. We fished this morning with it and caught crayfish and some nice pink snapper and dhufish.

“It has the potential to save a lot of plastic, and make things easy and stress-free.

“It’s a really positive step towards going plastic free when fishing.”

Proof is in the eating: the snapper seem to like it. CREDIT: JAMES FLORISSON, RECFISHWEST

He said recreational fishers spent so much time on the water they were highly conscious of the impact of pollution on fish stocks. Many fishers had begun to use lures in an effort to minimise waste.

“Rubbish is a problem for all user groups and it’s volatile in the aquatic environment, everyone has to do their bit to minimise,” he said.

“We anticipate recreational fishers in WA will get right on board with this.”

Mr Grose said using locally sourced bait was also a biosecurity win for WA; a white spot breakout in prawns carried from the eastern states had got there via international bait imported from South East Asia, putting WA marron, crabs and crayfish at risk.

Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly said WA needed to do everything possible to reduce plastic use.

“This new biodegradable fishing option has the potential to reduce hundreds of thousands of plastic bait bags coming into contact with our aquatic environment,” he said.

“Each year Western Australians make about 400,000 boat trips for recreational fishing. If these fishers think about reducing plastic bag use for bait or opt to buy one of these plastic-free bricks, there is the potential to significantly reduce the amount of plastic on board boats.

“I congratulate Recfishwest and Mendolia Seafoods for developing this positive new product.”

Community concern about plastic litter has been galvanised by news of a ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’, photos of dead birds with stomachs full of plastic, and research from UK-based Ellen MacArthur Foundation, released in 2016, that predicted the ocean would contain more plastic than fish by 2050.

The boxes are in tackle stores. CREDIT: JAMES FLORISSON, RECFISHWEST

There is also concern about microplastics derived from tyres, road markings, paint, clothing fibres, cosmetics and the degradation of larger items entering the oceans, being eaten by fish and thereby entering the food chain.

And while the majority of the plastic waste is in the oceans – 2017 research suggested 10 rivers, mostly in Asia, could be the source of 88-95 per cent of the global load of plastic introduced to the ocean – the European Union is launching a regional program in 2019 to help change this situation in south-east Asian countries.

Meanwhile, WA, Queensland and Victoria have followed the ACT, South Australia, the Northern Territory and Tasmania in introducing legislation to ban plastic bags, and some major food chains are also phasing out plastic straws, while governments are also working with cosmetic companies to phase out their use of microbeads.

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