Plastics in recycled fishing nets are being used to make an amazing array of products around the globe and Alaska plans to get in on the action.
An Alaska Net Hack Challenge is being planned for Sept. 8 and 9 that aims to identify potential opportunities for using the tons of old nets piled up in landfills and storage lots across the state and develop new items from the materials. Fishing nets can weigh from 5,000 to 20,000 pounds each.
“The purpose of the program is to change how people look at fishing nets and ropes. Instead of looking at them as waste materials, hopefully, they will start seeing them as a valuable resource and materials they can use in a different way,” said Nicole Baker, a former fisheries observer and founder of www.netyourproblem.com.
Baker spearheaded a project last summer in Dutch Harbor that collaborated with the local fishing industry and Global Ghost Gear Initiative to ship nearly 240,000 pounds, or about 40 nets, to a company called Plastix in Denmark where they were melted down, pelletized and resold to manufacturers of plastic products.
“Socks are being made from recycled fishing nets, water bottles, cell phone cases, carpets, bathing suits, sneakers, sunglasses, skateboards, rugs, bowls, even 3-D printing and injection molds. People are becoming so creative about finding ways to reuse these plastic products,” Baker said.
The Alaska Net Hack Challenge is based on the Circular Ocean program in the U.K. and Iceland that “aims to inspire enterprises and entrepreneurs to realize the hidden opportunities in discarded fishing nets.” Along with Baker, the two-day events are being organized in Anchorage by the Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative (AOCI) and by Brian Himelbloom, a retired University of Alaska seafood specialist in Kodiak.
“We will dump a bunch of waste nets and rope in the middle of a room and encourage artists, students, designers, business owners, engineers, recyclers and others to take the materials and design products out of it,” Baker explained, adding that Arctic Wire and Rope of Anchorage and gear manufacturers in Seattle are providing supplies for the Anchorage challenge, whereas Kodiak has plenty of “end of life” nets to offer.
“On the first day we will show presentations about the context and scale of the issue, the type of materials available, and some products and business models that have been implemented already to get people’s gray matter warmed up,” she added. “On the second day, teams will get together and use the material and design a prototype that will be presented to the judges to get their feedback.”
Judges will score the projects on creativity, usefulness and scalability and follow the development over six months. Video conferencing also will be available so that other interested communities can have a guideline on organizing Net Hack Challenges in their fishing towns. The ultimate hope is that some of the prototype projects will become commercially viable through the AOCI’s Blue Economy push that helps develop products to their final stages. The Alaska Net Hack Challenge is in its early organizational stage and a website and social media where people can register will be up and running in a few weeks, said AOIC director Joel Cladouhos. In the interim, emails to email@example.com will serve as the contact point.
Meanwhile, later this month Nicole Baker will be back in Dutch Harbor and also at St. Paul to collect more nets and give them new life in different useful forms.
“My goal is to fill more than seven container loads and top least year’s take,” she said.
In Alaska’s fisheries, the regions of Southeast, Cook Inlet, Bristol Bay and Kodiak attract the most attention. But it turns out that the more far flung and remote areas provide some of the state’s biggest fish bucks – notably, the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands regions, called BS/AI.
A new McDowell Group report measured the statewide economic impacts of shoreside processing operations in Dutch Harbor, Saint Paul, King Cove, Sand Point, False Pass, and other small communities based on an average of 2015 and 2016 harvests and production. It turns out that approximately 30 percent of the seafood industry’s total economic impact in Alaska can be attributed to BS/AI inshore processing and related fishing activity, adding up to nearly $1.6 billion in 2016. Forty-four percent of all seafood processing wages paid in Alaska stemmed from that region, totaling almost $440 million. And a whopping 56 percent of all fish taxes paid in Alaska, including Fisheries Business Tax and taxes levied by local governments, totaled nearly $60 million.
Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, with a population of about 4,300, is the largest community in the region and has been the top seafood port in the U.S. by volume for more than 20 years. Forty seven percent of the town’s workers were employed in seafood processing. All other BS/AI communities have fewer than 1,000 residents. The seasonality and huge volumes of seafood require bringing in workers from elsewhere, but the proportion of Alaska residents on the job in the BS/AI has increased from 17 to 24 percent since 2006. The Economic impact of inshore seafood processing in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands Region was produced for Icicle Seafoods Peter Pan Seafoods Trident Seafoods UniSea, Westward and Alyeska Seafoods.
Crab shell creations
The young Tidal Vision entrepreneurs of Juneau continue to expand their line of “upcycled” products made from a crab shell extract called chitosan. An all-natural solution called High Tide enhances plant growth by triggering the natural immune response that results in larger and hardier crops.
“In different plants that means increased yield or sap production, and increased likelihood of plants surviving fungal infections,” said Craig Kasburg, Tidal Vision president, adding that High Tide has been tested on a variety of plants from turf to trees.
“It helps to revive stressed trees that are grown in nurseries, such as those that are transported or subjected to a sudden drop in temperature. It has increased their survival rate,” he said. “It also increases the size of berries and tomato plants and decreases the number that die of disease.” High Tide also has produced similar results in the growing of marijuana.
“We did trials with over 500 cannabis growers and found the same results,” Kasburg said. “By increasing the sap production, it increased the essential oils and the THC and CBD, everything that makes cannabis valuable.”
A crab shell infused spray called Game Meat Protector also is being sold to hunters that protects meat from spoiling and being infested by insects. “It’s simply water, chitosan, and citric acid,” Kasberg said. “When it’s applied it leaves a thin film on the game meat. Because of chitosan’s natural anti-microbial properties and the low pH citric acid, it acts as a preservative and protects the quality of the game meat. It also prevents bugs and insects from landing and burrowing into it.”
“It is sort of an insurance policy for hunters,” he added. “When hunting deep in the backcountry there is always a risk of bad weather or other things that can cause a delay. Having a natural way to preserve the quality of the meat as it is being harvested is an important step for hunters.”
One eight-ounce bottle is enough to cover an entire large game animal and it can also be sprayed on game bags for extra protection. Purchase Game Meat Protector at Amazon and other outdoor outlets, as well as at the Tidal Vision website. You’ll also find sponges, beverage fining agents, pool clarifiers and more – all originating from Alaska crab shells.
• Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based journalist who writes a weekly column, Fish Factor, that appears in newspapers and websites around Alaska and nationally.