Project seeks bait bag alternative to reduce plastic pollution in fishing industry

Project seeks bait bag alternative to reduce plastic pollution in fishing industry

A unique partnership of marine conservation committed organisations, drawn from the education, NGO and private sectors, has launched a project to prevent a particular source of plastic from entering the marine environment.

Marine conservation charity, Sea Trust Wales, together with the largest shellfish supplier in Europe, Macduff Shellfish, and the BioComposites Centre, a specialist research centre at Bangor University, seek to find a sustainable alternative to woven, plastic bait bags that are used by shellfish fishermen and in seafood processing factories. If successful, it may have broader applications across aquaculture, agriculture and food production.

The three-month project is backed by The UK Seafood Innovation Fund, a £10 million programme supporting new ideas to deliver cutting-edge technology and innovation to the UK’s fishing, aquaculture and seafood industries.

The bait bags, commonly used in the whelk fishing sector, are not easily recyclable often ending up in landfill or can sometimes fly away overboard when used at sea, impacting on marine and coastal wildlife.  They are also not easy to clean for re-use.  

This initial feasibility study will examine how the bags are currently used by fishermen, explore how they could be cleaned, and, through a circular economy, the material reprocessed into a polymer bag which is more robust and readily recyclable. The team’s hope is that in future the partnership could develop a robust, commercially viable, biodegradable bioplastic bag, that would have wider applications too across aquaculture, agriculture and in food processing.    

Lloyd Nelmes, marine project officer at Sea Trust Wales, said: “In our role, we constantly look for ways to care for our marine and coastal wildlife and mitigate any dangers by coming up with innovative solutions. The issue of bait bags came to our attention from local fishermen and a chance meeting with Macduff Shellfish at a sustainability conference set us on the path to work together in addressing the issue and applying for funding. 

“We were delighted when the project was approved by The UK Seafood Innovation Fund and look forward to seeing what we can develop with the expertise of The BioComposites Centre.”  

Claire Pescod, head of Sustainability & Science, at Macduff Shellfish, added: “Sustainability is at the core of the Macduff Shellfish business.  We are committed to investing in scientific research to inform and improve fisheries management as well as a wide range of sustainability initiatives like this bait bag project.

“We’ve worked hard on reducing, reusing, and recycling materials within our supply chain but bait bags was one area that needs more work to find a commercially viable and cost effective alternative.  We are pleased to be working in partnership with Sea Trust and the BioComposites Centre with input from whelk fishermen and hope that collectively we can make real in-roads.”   

Rob Elias of Bangor University, said: “An important aspect is ensuring that any replacement bait bag performs better than what it would replace. We know that currently shellfish get caught in the mesh of the bags and are difficult to extract. A key part of our work will be informed by interviewing fishermen and finding out the issues they face.  From that we can look to enhance both the useability and sustainability of the bags, while retaining the robustness needed.

“We hope that this is just the initial part of a longer-term project to find the ‘holy grail’ – a commercially viable, biodegradable, bioplastic alternative that has many applications across different industries.” 

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