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Unalaska sends thousands of pounds of old fishing nets to Denmark for recycling

  • Author: Laine Welch
  • Updated: March 11
  • Published March 11

More big bundles of old fishing nets will soon be on their way from Dutch Harbor to Denmark to be remade into high-end plastics. It will be the second batch of nets to leave Dutch for a higher cause, and more Alaska fishing towns can get on board.

Last summer a community collaborative put nearly 240,000 pounds, or about 40 nets, into shipping vans that were bound for a Danish "clean tech" company called Plastix. The company refines and pelletizes all types of plastics and resells it to makers of water bottles, cellphone cases and other items.

"It seems so unreasonable and not logical to just throw it away when we know that if handling plastics right — if sorting and homogenizing it — you can actually reuse it over and over again," said Axel Kristensen, Plastix CEO. The collaboration with Dutch Harbor is the company's first venture into the U.S., he told radio station KUCB.

It was a news story about fishing nets being turned into footwear by Adidas that spawned the Dutch Harbor/Denmark connection, said Nicole Baker, founder of netyourproblem.com and leader of the net removal project in Dutch last summer.

As a former fishery observer for five years, Baker had seen massive piles of derelict nets at far-flung Alaska ports, and the story inspired her to find a solution.

"A light bulb went off in my head. I thought if this group is looking for more fishing nets to turn into shoes, I certainly know where they can get some," Baker said.

It turned out that Adidas can only use nylon nets for its footwear, and fishing gear that targets cod, pollock and flounders is made of different plastics. With guidance and financial help from the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, Baker connected with a taker and charted a course for Dutch Harbor.

"I went to different boats and knocked on the door and said, 'hey, we're doing net recycling, do you have any nets to get rid of, and if you do, would you go with me to the net yard and show me which ones they are,'" Baker said.

From there, others in the fishing industry kicked in.

"Swan Nets bundled them and delivered them to OSI (Offshore Systems, Inc.) where they were stored. They were loaded into containers and Trident and Plastix arranged the shipping," Baker said. "They did not even require sorting. We basically bundled up the nets and put them in shipping containers and off they went."

Baker believes that fishermen have so few options for net disposal, they are becoming more receptive to recycling.

"The reason that the nets are sitting around is because it costs too much money and preparation to take them to the landfill, or they literally do not have another option," Baker said, adding that nets can weigh from 5,000 to 20,000 pounds each.

At Dutch Harbor, net storage costs were listed at more than $1,000 per cubic yard.
There have been many ambitious and successful marine debris and removal projects in Alaska over the past decade or more, but they come and go. Meanwhile, the old fishing nets continue to pile up.

Baker hopes to expand the Plastix project to St. Paul Island this summer, and hopefully to Kodiak and other fishing towns.

"Each fishing port will have its own logistics plan but the general role will be the same," Baker said. "You need somebody to truck the nets around, load them, ship them. Basically, I see my role as connecting fishermen with the recyclers."

"This is a long-term vision," she added, "but I would like to set up a program that when you buy a new net you know exactly what to do with the old one."

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is now offering grants on fishing gear removal programs. Deadline to apply is April 19. Contact Nicole Baker at netyourproblem@gmail.com

Fish watch

Hundreds more boats will be out on the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska fishing grounds this month when halibut and herring fisheries get added to the mix. They will join a segmented patchwork of fishing fleets that have been targeting pollock, cod and other whitefish since the start of the year.

The Bering Sea snow crab fishery that got underway in mid-January is winding down, while at the same time, the first Tanner crab fishery in decades is just starting at Prince William Sound.

The year's first red king crab fishery kicked off at Norton Sound on March 3.
The winter king salmon season in Southeast closes to trollers earlier this year on March 15 to help conserve the dwindling stock. That fishery usually stays open through April.

Alaska's first herring fishery will begin in mid- to late March at Sitka Sound. The projected catch is 11,128 tons, down from 14,649 tons last year.

The Pacific halibut fishery is scheduled to open on March 24, but there's no word yet on how much fish might be caught.

Because U.S. and Canadian halibut commissioners could not agree in January on how to divide the stocks between the two countries, the catch limits and fishing regulations are being set instead at each nation's capital.

"The Canadians refused to agree to the U.S. recommendations because they don't agree with the way the coastline stock is apportioned among the management areas. They haven't agreed with the process for a number of years," explained fishery adviser Heather McCarty. "The U.S. commissioners refused to vote for the one management area off Canada because they believed it was too high from a conservation standpoint."

The interim rule from NOAA Fisheries will hopefully be out this week with the new quotas and halibut charter management measures.

"It will be close to sending out permits for the March 24 opening," said Tom Gemmell, director of the Juneau-based Halibut Coalition.

The 2018 Pacific halibut catches are expected to decline in all regions.

Sea a Cure

Sea a Cure has launched a 5K virtual race to raise money for cancer research at City of Hope. The project began as a campaign in 1999 by Orca Bay Seafoods to help "one of its own" with a cancer fight and has since grown to a full-fledged campaign that includes all facets of the fishing industry.

The idea for a virtual race stemmed from "geographic logistics," said Lilani Estacio, marketing and communications manager for Orca Bay and a lead organizer for Sea a Cure.

"There are decision makers and leaders of Sea a Cure all over the map. We thought it would be a fun way to get people active and moving when they can and where ever they are," she said.

The 5K can be accomplished by walking, running or using ellipticals and treadmills through March 14.

"We recommend that participants use a phone app, running app, or at the very least a timer to record your times and mileage," Estacio said.

Along with raising money for cancer and disease research, all participants are entered to win prizes and swag. Register for the Sea a Cure 5K on Facebook or at eventbrite.com.

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