KODIAK — More shipping containers filled with plastic fishing nets, crab lines and other gear left Dutch Harbor last week for recycling plants in Europe, and two more will soon follow from that port and Kodiak.
“We’re accepting trawl and crab line and halibut gear and all of it is going to Bulgaria to be sorted,” said Nicole Baker, founder of Net Your Problem and the force behind the recycling effort that began loading and shipping gear last year.
“I expect that three more containers from Dutch will be going to Europe in the next few weeks, so we should have seven containers by the end of 2018. That would tie the amount that was recycled last year,” Baker said.
That will add up to nearly 300,000 pounds of old fishing gear again being removed from landfills and storage lots. All end up at a recycling company in Denmark called Plastix, where the materials are made into new products.
“Once the nets get there, they grind them up and melt them down and turn them into pellets that are resold to plastics buyers to turn into water bottles or phone cases or whatever you might choose to make out of it,” Baker explained.
Fishing gear made from combined plastics also is included in the program.
“We can also recycle what I call mixed plastics which is normally what crab line and some types of halibut line are made out of,” she said, adding that nylon-based gear used primarily in gillnets and seines is the only plastic not accepted yet.
“I am currently working with some nylon recyclers to try to add that to the suite of materials that I can accept, maybe next year or the year after,” Baker said.
Funding for the ongoing project comes from the Global Ghost Gear Initiative and the recycling push also is part of a growing partnership with fishermen and local companies.
Baker, who was a fisheries observer for five years and currently works as a research assistant at the University of Washington in Seattle, hopes to expand her recycling footprint in and outside of Alaska.
“If you have gear to recycle and you don’t have a program already established, don’t let that stop you from reaching out,” she said. “I’m in the process of starting new programs in Alaska and also, hopefully, on the west coast.”
Fishermen can safely hose down their decks and fish holds without fear of violating the federal Clean Water Act.
After 10 years of trying, the Senate last week passed a Coast Guard Reauthorization bill that — if signed in to law — will permanently exempt all fishing vessels, fish processing vessels or tenders of any length from being subject to Environmental Protection Agency incidental discharge regulations for ballast water and deck washing.
Temporary exemptions, which affect roughly 8,500 Alaska fishing boats, have been ongoing since 2008 and were set to expire at the end of this year.
“Vessel owners were extremely concerned that without a permanent fix, such simple activities as washing down a deck after gutting fish could expose a captain to an EPA fine for unauthorized discharge,” said John Sackton, of SeafoodNews.com.
“The passage of this bill is a breakthrough for the commercial fishing industry and it’s been a long time coming,” said Chris Brown, president of Seafood Harvesters of America. “We are grateful to the numerous Senators who worked hard to permanently exempt fishing vessels from onerous regulations that would require us to monitor and log any water running off boat decks.”
FISH BOARD IN THE BAY
Some of the 47 proposals the state Board of Fisheries will address later this month are raising eyebrows. The board will meet in Dillingham Nov. 28 – Dec. 3 to focus on Bristol Bay subsistence, commercial, sport and personal use issues.
One proposal calls for increasing the size limit for drift gillnet boats from 32 feet to 42 feet. It claims the larger boats would allow for better refrigeration systems, be safer and could be used in other fisheries beyond Bristol Bay.
Another would allow the use of beach weirs, claiming that salmon gillnets don’t yield high enough quality fish to compete in today’s marketplace. A beach weir, the proposal says, would result in less bruising or net marks and nontargeted species could easily be released.
Using a lottery for the first four downriver setnet sites in the Wood River special harvest area also is being suggested. The proposal claims the vast majority of the salmon harvest is shared by only four permit holders and the catch drops off sharply for others further downstream.
To help people make the most of the six day meetings, a training session on how to navigate the board process is set for the lunch break on the first day.
With just three minutes to make a case, board director Glenn Haight said it’s important to make a good impression.
“We’ll walk through the Board of Fish process, go through the terms, the meeting lay out, and just tell them how to provide more effective testimony, how to speak to board members and make a strong impact,” Haight said.
Recent criticisms of Alaska’s salmon hatchery program come mostly from Kenai Peninsula sportfishermen who claim too many fish from Prince William Sound operations are jeopardizing survival of wild stocks in their region.
Ironically, it’s salmon fishermen from the Kenai that are some of the biggest beneficiaries of those hatchery fish.
An economic impact report by the McDowell Group for the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation shows that about 220 seiners who fish in the Sound hail from 22 Alaska communities; nearly 520 drift gillnetters hail from 30 towns.
Fishermen from Cordova and Valdez hold the most permits for the PWS region at 325, earning nearly $37 million at the docks in 2017.
That’s followed by salmon harvesters from the Kenai Peninsula with 155 permits and a pay day of about $32 million.
The municipality of Anchorage ranks third with 81 PWS salmon fishermen who made $14 million last year. The Mat Su Borough, mostly Wasilla, is home to 34 PWS salmon permit holders who earned $3.5 million last year.