Should Plastic Be Off the Hook?

A Look into Plastic Pollution from Lost Baits

By Nicole VanDerSnick

The vireos and wobblers are gently cooing while the croaks of southern leopard frogs reverberate across the still waters.

Celebrity Fishermen J. Todd Tucker, pictured right with MHG CEO Paul A. Pereira, steps up to help end plastic pollution in waterways and oceans.

Celebrity Fishermen J. Todd Tucker, pictured right with MHG CEO Paul A. Pereira, steps up to help end plastic pollution in waterways and oceans.

Despite the bugs, watching the morning sunrise atop the boat Captain’s chair makes the 5:30 am wake-up call more manageable.

After rigging a stick bait, you cast your line and wait for the bass to take a bite, and they eagerly comply. But as you reel in the first catch, you feel the fish shake the bait off the hook and swim away victorious. Or is it?

Since its origins in the late 1950s, soft plastic lures (SPLS) have been the popular choice for bass anglers because of their lifelike believability.

With the right rod handling, an SPL looks like a live alewife, shimmering scales and all. The seemingly ‘natural’ appearance comes from the lure’s composition, which consists of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) that is then softened by plasticizers like phthalates.

While some phthalates are partially banned in Japan and areas of Europe because of their cancer-causing properties, these chemicals are used in millions of products.

Their usage in SPLs is particularly alarming as some estimates say that nearly 20 million pounds of SPLs are lost or discarded each year. Like other forms of pollution made of petroleum-derived plastic, discarded SPLs will leach chemicals, contaminating the water as well as wildlife.

A 2014 study of Charleston Lake in Ontario, Canada found that wild fish, specifically trout and bass, will willingly eat SPLs that are littering their habitats.

Unlike other plastics, SPLs are made with a porous polymer that can absorb water and swell rapidly. Similar to the once popular, and repeatedly recalled novelty toy ‘Grow Monsters,’ SPLs can nearly double in length and density. So when fish chow down on the food-impersonators, they are ultimately facing a death sentence as the swollen SPL will obstruct their gastrointestinal tract since they are not digestible or biodegradable.

There are nearly 1.2 million freshwater anglers fishing every day in the United States, and almost every one has at one time lost a lure. Given SPL rigging methods, like ‘wacky rigging’, SPLs are extremely susceptible to tearing off hooks.

Enter MHG and the Promise of PHA

MHG has started to manufacture 100% biodegradable freshwater fishing lures as a starting point to reduce the pollution associated with recreational fishing. In partnership with Bill Lewis Lures, the maker of Rat-L-Traps, MHG presented the world’s first certified biodegradable freshwater lure at the 2015 ICAST Conference and Exhibition in Orlando, FL from July 14-17.

Watch J. Todd Tucker Cast the First-Ever Biodegradable Fishing Lure made of MHG PHA

Unlike traditional plastic lures, the Rat-L-Traps made with MHG’s PHA will completely biodegrade without leaching any toxic chemicals.

Bill Lewis Lures is making biodegradable bait made of MHG PHA.

Biodegradable fishing bait made of MHG PHA will be on sale soon.

If a lure powered by MHG’s PHA were to be discarded or lost in the water, microbial life would completely degrade it in 12-18 weeks through biological decomposition.

Since PHA is a naturally occurring biopolymer produced by, and subsequently extracted from the cell walls of microbial bacteria, it will decompose both aerobically and anaerobically in water and on shorelines.

Celebrity Fisherman Bill Dance, pictured right with MHG's Scott Tuten, shares the spotlight at 2015 ICAST with MHG's biodegradable lure.

Celebrity Fisherman Bill Dance, pictured right with MHG’s Scott Tuten, shares the spotlight at 2015 ICAST with MHG’s PHA biodegradable lure.

Microbial bacteria break down PHA because, like leaves or food waste, it is organic material.

Because MHG’s PHA is sourced from Canola oil without using any toxic solvents or chemicals, a decomposing PHA product will return to the natural life cycle, only releasing carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.

This outcome contrasts starkly with the recent discovery that zooplankton, a classification of microscopic organisms, are ingesting petroleum derived microplastics.

As zooplankton are at the lowest trophic level of the food chain, the fact that they are eating microplastic means most marine predators, including humans, are being contaminated by plastic too.

Since discarded plastics both leach and absorb toxic substances – like phthalates – that are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBTs), any animal that eats plastic contaminated zooplankton will be exposed to those same toxins—except magnified.

Thanks to biomagnification, toxic pollutants move up the food chain through consumption and become increasingly concentrated in the tissues of those organisms. According to the study, a humpback whale, whose daily diet consists of roughly 5,500lbs of plankton or krill, could ingest more than 300,000 microplastics every day.

Learn More About MHG’s PHA

Products, like fishing lures, made of MHG’s biodegradable PHA clearly will go a long way towards mitigating the future threat of PBTs in the food chain. MHG’s PHA is certified biodegradable and compostable in soil and water. We can customize our PHA bioplastics to meet varying tensile strengths and durability requirements for use in most common applications. Learn more then contact us to find out how we can work with you.+