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Posted on 09/03/2022 by Phillip Island Nature Parks


A simple idea aimed at saving seals from becoming tangled in trawl netting at Phillip Island has already reduced the amount of waste that fishing boats lose in the ocean.

Phillip Island Nature Parks partnered with the South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association (SETFIA) and RMIT University Behavioural Scientists on the ‘Bins on Boats’ project – which has more than doubled the amount of rubbish returning to shore on fishing vessels from an average of 31 litres to 66 litres per vessel.

The researchers are optimistic the project has already contributed to a reduction in seals entangled in trawl net fragments at Seal Rocks. From 2017-2020, the number of trawl net entanglements recorded at Seal Rocks has decreased from seven in 2017, to four in 2018 and 2019, and two in 2020.

“Initially we thought it would take years to see the impact of the trial, but early signs are positive and the benefits are clear, with commercial fishing vessels doubling the amount of rubbish they bring back to shore,” Nature Parks marine scientist Rebecca McIntosh said.

The researchers found there was a lack of appropriate bins onboard commercial fishing vessels and investigations of fragments taken from seals suggested that cut trawl netting was being accidentally blown or washed overboard in the rough sea conditions.

The idea was simple: better bins, and more of them.

With funding from the Victorian Government, specially designed wheelie bins with wind-proof lids were offered to fishing operators who use a variety of fishing gear at the port of Lakes Entrance, San Remo, Portland and other ports in Victoria.

“It has only been about three years of the bins being fully used, so we will want to see the results in another year or two before we’re fully confident, but the signs are really promising,” Dr McIntosh said.

“We have potentially reduced trawl net entanglement of seals in the Bass Strait simply through the use of purpose-built bins.”

Plastic in the ocean comes from a variety of sources and most originates from land. It is wide-ranging and moves around with the currents. Entanglement in both commercial trawl net fragments, recreational fishing line and other waste has been an ongoing source of harm for Australian fur seals.

From 2017-2020, there were 17 entanglements in trawl netting, 27 in recreational fishing line and 35 in other rubbish such as balloon ribbons, plastic rings and cap bands.

However, the fishing industry wanted to play its part in reducing entanglements.

SETFIA Executive Officer, Simon Boag, said the commercial fishing industry was proud to design, source and distribute bins for the Bins on Boats initiative.

“We are working with our fishers and Phillip Island Nature Parks because sustainable fishing practices, such as correct waste disposal, protect our future,” he said.

In a unique collaboration, RMIT Behavioural Scientists Alex Kusmanoff and Sarah Bekessy played a key role to address the human behaviour side of the project, including surveying vessel crews and specially designing the labelling on the bins.

“All conservation problems are ultimately about human behaviour, so there is great potential for applying behavioural science to help solve conservation problems,” Dr Kusmanoff said.

“However, this is still rather rare, so it’s wonderful to work with agencies who are willing to try new approaches and to experiment with different management interventions.”

The Bins on Boats study has been published in the international Conservation Science and Practice while a report and fact sheet are also available online.


Image caption:

Luke Hill, a trawler and gillnetter from San Remo, Victoria, has placed one of the bins on his vessel Metis.