Effort Intensifies to Recycle Old Commercial Fishing Nets into New Products

A research scientist intent on helping the seafood industry responsibly dispose of old fish nets, preferably by recycling them into ingredients for or actual new products, met this past week in Anchorage, Alaska, with an eclectic group offering a variety of potential uses for tons of discarded nets.

“Key to success in this program is to see these old nets as raw material for new products” says former fisheries observer Nicole Baker, who now works with fisheries professors at the University of Washington.

Baker held her Alaska Net Hack Challenge last weekend in Anchorage – with a simultaneous event in Kodiak – at Anchorage Makerspace, a non-profit facility that provides everything from 3D printers and a professional laser cutter to electronics and woodworking equipment. The group, which included engineers and a federal fisheries analyst, designed and produced a variety of basic product samples ranging from stiff bristle deck brushes to filament for 3D printers, to display boards, backpacks and soccer goal nets. They also discussed how the nets could be used to create emergency shelters and cots for use in disaster areas.

Baker collaborated with Joe Cladouhos, director of the Anchorage-based Alaska Ocean Cluster initiative, and others including representatives from NOAA and a private equity fund. Cladouhos is also the founder and organizer for the Ocean Technology Innovation Sprint, or OTIS, developed in conjunction with the Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative, Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association and the University of Alaska’s Business Enterprise Institute.

Baker’s passion for net recycling stems from her days as fisheries observer traveling in and out of Dutch Harbor where she saw piles of discarded nets weighing thousands of pounds. Through her collaborative efforts in the industry some of those nets were shipped out last summer to Europe for processing into materials to make new products.

The next step will be to work on design details and determine which products could become economically viable.