10 Years of Data – is legislation working?

The reduction of strapping bands as a marine debris item is an example of a Source Reduction Plan facilitated by Tangaroa Blue Foundation involving volunteer data and state government legislation. These strapping bands are hard plastic tapes used to secure boxes on-board commercial and recreational fishing vessels. They have been common items collected on the southern half of the West Australian coastline and can cause injury to marine animals and birds if entanglement occurs, as well as adding to the overall plastic load in the ocean. A targeted Source Reduction Plan was developed, and in 2011 the Western Australian Fish Resources Management Regulations (1995) updated legislation that aimed to curb the use of plastic strapping bands used to secure bait boxes on vessels operating in west coast fisheries. Since that time strapping bands are required to be removed from bait boxes prior to boxes being loaded on-board vessels.

Strapping band data across the ten years is presented below as the number of bands per kilometre of beach cleaned. The number and length of strapping bands collected can be a function of collection effort since larger areas of beach clean-ups increases the likelihood of bands being found. Since the overall collection effort has increased over time, the ‘per kilometre’ approach is one way of assessing the impact of the new legislation while reducing the influence of the additional clean-ups. While this approach is a simplification of the data, there is a clear downward trend in the number of strapping bands found per kilometre post 2011 when the new legislation was introduced.

Despite these efforts, certain exemptions are permissible under the law, allowing loopholes to be exploited and certain vessels operating within specific fisheries are still permitted to carry these straps on-board. Recent anecdotal evidence of new strapping bands being found on beaches in close proximity of commercial fishing vessel moorings suggests that not all vessel operators that that are permitted to carry the bands are managing them responsibly.

Tangaroa Blue Foundation recommends the Minister of Fisheries review the current strapping band legislation, and removes the exemption allowing bands to be brought onto vessels within 800 m of the shore. Long term monitoring of strapping bands is suggested to maintain a watching brief on this item. Further information on this is available in the Tangaroa Blue Foundation report ‘Plastic loops and loopholes: is bait band legislation in Western Australia actually working?’ (O’Shea 2013).

This article is part of the annual WA report, and you can read the whole of the 2014 WA Beach Clean Up Report here

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