Marine Degradable Bioplastics Improve Mortality Rates of Sea Life

Jun 07, 2013, 13:03 ET from Metabolix, Inc.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., June 7, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Millions of fishing pots (i.e., traps) are spread across our ocean floors globally to catch all manner of sea life, from crabs to lobsters to certain types of fish. Whether due to boat traffic cutting lines, lines breaking, or simply losing a pot overboard, there are abundant opportunities for these fishing pots to be lost at sea.  The numbers bear this out, as anywhere from 10-70% of deployed pots are lost or abandoned each year.


You might be wondering, "What happens to these 'lost' fishing pots?" or "Why is this an issue since they're so far below the water's surface?" The answer to the first question is simple, but has lasting consequences for the second: the pots simply stay there. These lost or abandoned traps can a source for mortality to sea life for several years as they sit on the ocean floor. Even though they are no longer being monitored or retrieved, these lost pots are still able to capture, and often kill, target and by-catch fish, as well as crustacean species and other marine life. These dead animals in turn attract more fish and crustaceans, creating a sort of perpetual baiting cycle that can have serious ecological and economic impacts in the region. By some estimation, as many as 1.9 million blue crabs are killed by derelict pots annually, just in North Carolina waters.

In a recent paper, published in Conservation Biology by researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William & Mary, experimental fishing pots with a biodegradable cull panel were created and fished to assess the potential effect of the pots on the blue crab catch in Chesapeake Bay. The biodegradable panels were made of our Mirel PHA biopolymer, certified by ASTM to biodegrade in marine environments.  The panels were shown to degrade 20-40% in about a year, creating a hole large enough to allow sea life to be free to wander in and out of the derelict fishing pots.

The researchers concluded that the use of biodegradable panels are an effective and efficient pot modification that can reduce the catch of organisms by lost and abandoned pots while not reducing the catch rates of the pots while in use. As an added bonus, once the panels have degraded and the pots are "escapable", what was once marine pollution becomes a potentially productive habitat and shelter.

With so many environmental stresses on the fish population, we are happy to see innovative applications utilizing the functional biodegradation profile of PHA to help reduce plastic fragments in the ocean and the premature mortality of fish, crabs, lobster and other species.

For more information (and a video on this study) click here.

Read the post on the Bio-Industrial Evolution blog here.

About Metabolix
Metabolix, Inc. is an innovation-driven bioscience company delivering sustainable solutions to the plastics, chemicals and energy industries. Metabolix is developing and commercializing a family of high-performance biopolymers targeted to the markets for film and bag applications, performance additives and functional biodegradation. Metabolix's biobased chemicals platform utilizes its novel "FAST" recovery process to enable the production of cost-effective, "drop-in?" replacements for petroleum-based industrial chemicals. Metabolix is also developing a platform for co-producing plastics, chemicals and energy from crops. Metabolix has established an industry-leading intellectual property portfolio that, together with its knowledge of advanced industrial practice, provides a foundation for industry collaborations.

SOURCE Metabolix, Inc.