Bristol Bay tribe forms recycling program for fish nets, rain gear

fishing nets
Water washes over fish in a subsistence net on Kanakanak Beach (Brian Venua/KDLG)

The Curyung Tribe and Net Your Problem, a recycling company based in Seattle, view old fishing nets as a resource. They are collecting mesh from nets to transport to a facility where processors will convert the material into new items. The Tribe’s environmental coordinator, Desi Bond, says this work keeps Dillingham beautiful and helps preserve the land.

“The biggest thing is how we can continue to teach our children about subsistence and how we can take care of our land. And this is one really important way,” Bond says.

Fishing nets take hundreds of years to break down and release microplastics as they do. Nicole Baker, who owns Net Your Problem, estimates nearly 100,000 pounds of fish net waste is thrown away in Bristol Bay each year.

“So that’s between Naknek, Dillingham and Togiak. And if you think about the landfills, they’re not going to be able to be filled up forever. They have a limited lifespan,” Baker says.

The program is collecting nets with lead and cork lines removed. They ask that the nets be free of twine, moss, leaves and seaweed. Once the team makes sure the nets are clean, they compress them with a baler — a machine that forms the material into a bundle that resembles a hay bale — to help save space in shipping containers.

Baker says that after the material reaches the recycling facilities in Seattle, it is shredded and melted and made into tiny plastic pebbles called nurdles.

“This is then the building blocks for the plastics manufacturing industry,” she says. “So you can take those pellets and pour [them] into a mold and make something like the handle of this knife.” She displays a small knife with a plastic handle.

According to Baker, recycling plastic also reduces the carbon footprint of the industry. In all, the industry releases millions of tons of carbon dioxide each year.

“To make plastic you have to extract oil – to make virgin plastic. So, if we can use recycled plastic in manufacturing instead [of] virgin plastic, there is something like an 80% reduction in carbon emissions,” she says.

The Tribe has collected nets for years. New this year, Bond says the Tribe is working with the company Rugged Seas to recycle PVC rain gear. The PVC gear will be used to make bags, including roll top dry bags.

“This is actually what’s made out of the PVC rain gear they have cleaned,” she says, holding up a small bag in the studio. “And then they have someone that makes it into these little cute handbags, and then there’s also a shoulder strap bag that they have and they have a few other materials.”

Bond says the team will even give a small bag to those who bring their gear for recycling.

By keeping these nets and rain gear out of the landfill, Bond and Baker see a global impact. Bond calls this a ‘ripple effect.’

“Sometimes we feel like we’re not doing much. But when you step back and you look at it in that perspective, it’s a beautiful ripple effect, you know, and so I like that,” she says.

Anyone with used nets can drop them off at the Curyung Tribal Council building or the Dillingham boat harbor. Bond says the Tribe is also working to install collection bins at the landfill.

In Naknek, you can drop nets across from the city dock. Baker says the Captain Jack’s Tide Book includes information on additional drop-off locations with partnering boatyards and canneries.

You can drop old rain gear at the Curyung Tribal Council building or at the Dillingham Harbormaster’s office.

If you have questions, contact Bond at 907-842-1751 or Baker at 907-359-3450.

recycled fishing gear
This knife handle and zip bag were made from recycled net and rain gear, respectively. (Courtesy Desi Bond)
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