A Whangaparaoa entrepreneur has created new eco-friendly bait products using biodegradable ingredients that stays on a fishhook for longer than other baits, enabling more fish to be caught more cheaply, and giving anglers ‘real value for money’.

Ecobaits company director John Baanders, a long time keen fisherman and retired graphic designer, works out of his home garage. He says his startup revolves around production of the world’s foremost sustainable fish bait products, using 100 percent biodegradable ingredients and without using any fish product.

“The biodegradable bait is about the size of a thumbnail – and a third of the price. One kilogram of our Ecobait bait makes approximately 250 units of bait as compared to say pilchard where you’d get 40 baits,” says Baanders.

Baanders has to date made a lot of ‘bait’, using a biodegradable protein compound known as Gelamax 360, which Ecobaits has exclusive world-wide rights to for its line of products and specifically made for Ecobaits Ltd. Their products were created by, as Baanders says, “so much trialling and lots of error over the past 10 plus years. All our products contain Gelamax 360. It’s impossible to do without it. Many have tried without success”.

“As trialling progressed we became more aware of ocean stress (pollution and overfishing, particularly bait fish – the source of food for bigger fish), it became more apparent there had to be significant changes to fishing culture. Solutions were required.”

Ecobaits product range includes a type of ‘conventional’ bait that goes on a hook, a non-plastic soft bait, a super attractant, a non-frozen burley mix, and “fish lollies” – ideal for kids and people new to fishing.

Baanders has also recently developed an exciting, completely alternative method of fishing that literally does not require conventional bait.

John Baanders founder of Ecobaits.

Using a fabric matrix, which is almost impossible for fish to remove from a hook, a small square is cut to size with scissors (about the size of a $2 coin) then coated with the Super Attractant and put on the hook. It may become called ‘Super Bait’, adds Baanders.

The results have been impressive as each piece of “bait” lasts several fish attacks and often four to five fish are caught on the same bait. If the bait has lost some attractant all it requires is replenishment of attractant. Baanders says that a half of a 110ml pot of super attractant, costing about $20 retail, will last, on average, as long as three to four kilograms of squid or pilchard costing about $39-$52.

This translates to significant savings for any fishing enthusiast, but more importantly no bait fish are used leaving “bait fish for big fish” as food. It has been acknowledged that overfishing exploitation and depletion of bait fish are leaving fish stocks hungry. “None of our products contain fish, in fact we mainly use mussel meat, which is farmed and sustainable” says Baanders.

While many anglers worldwide have already made the transition to soft baits, Baanders notes that Ecobait is the only manufacturer in the world that makes a non-plastic soft bait. This means if the ‘Ecosoftbait’ comes off the hook, it will biodegrade instead of adding more plastic pollution to the ocean floor. In fact all Ecobaits products are edible and nutritious for fish and marine creatures.

Baanders says his reliable man-made products have the potential to change the fishing industry worldwide. Even to the point that strong consideration is being given by fishing regulators in New Zealand to minimise trawling and alternatively introducing huge traps to entice fish into using species-targeted flavoured burley bombs. Baanders is currently working with the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) Fisheries researchers to do exactly this.

Fishing enthusiasts also win when using Baanders’ innovative and highly effective bait products.

“When you purchase Ecobait, you will get extra value for your money due to the fact that the specialised, purpose made protein gelatine includes a biodegradable bamboo gauze which makes it difficult for the fish to remove from the hook enabling a better catch rate per bait,” he explains.

As the bait stays longer on the hook, less bait is required when fishing. The gelatin takes up to 24 hours to dissolve in water.

“It’s very difficult to create bait that is as good as a natural bait – but because my bait stays on the hook longer, people see the benefits,” Baanders says, “and usually competes better than conventional bait”.

EcoBaits soft bait is entirely biodegradable and can be cut to size.

There are also safety, convenience and sustainability gains for fishers too.

As Ecobait is quite soft, no knives are needed (it can be cut with scissors) and all ingredients are eco-friendly and biodegradable.

All Ecobaits leave the fish food chain intact as no fish components are incorporated in the production of the bait, which is great for conserving traditional bait fish stocks.

Ecobaits has drawn the attention of the Ministry of Primary Industries Fisheries, who is conducting preliminary field tests on all Ecobait products.

A fisheries management marine branch analyst at MPI says the results of the tests on Ecobaits, undertaken in a variety of environments should be known by the end of the month.

Baanders said MPI agreed last year that an engineered bait using compounds similar to what Ecobaits is currently producing, supported by Ecobaits claims, could have utility for a variety of NZ fisheries.

“[MPI] said, ‘Based on Ecobaits claims and descriptions we are keen to follow your work on solutions because it appears you have developed some novel approaches to current bait issues”.

“They see that what I have can be offered as a possible alternative for current fishing methods that use bait fish as bait; that is one reason why they are so excited about my product,” says Baanders.

“Based on what we have explained, MPI could see that there is potential for the Ecobait system being used in the long line industry where auto-baiting is used. Being a bait that can be cut into uniform sized pieces the likelihood of auto-baiting jam ups is greatly reduced.”

Baanders is also trying to raise capital or a partnership to expand his product, and the eco-friendly aspect of Ecobaits is an important part of the start up. A complete buy out could also be considered.

Baanders would like to see a much more environmentally friendly fishing industry, adding he’d like to ‘influence industry into becoming more fish and ocean friendly’ using attractants from non-fish products.

“I want people and nations to be more aware of the dire situation out there. Fish sustainability is in jeopardy worldwide,” he said.

Baanders says the continuing relationship with MPI Fisheries, their scientists, their enthusiasm and contacts with industry leaders will be of considerable importance to assist Ecobaits Ltd becoming a world leader in the way fishing practices are conducted to ensure fish sustainability and what he calls Ocean Care into the future.

“This is ground-breaking, ocean saving stuff.”

Story by Dave Crampton

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