Although my partner, Chris, is a nature lover and does what he can to protect the environment, there’s no way around the fact that commercial fishing isn’t considered the most eco-conscious of career choices. Sure, there are many sustainable fisheries out there (thank goodness!), but what about all the old gear and nets that need replacing? What about the waste? Enter Net Your Problem, a “fishing gear recycling services…for end of life or derelict fishing nets and other fishing gear.” Sign us the F up!
The founder of this operation is Nicole Baker Loke, and her small business is making a big change from coast to coast. But what the heck can you recycle old fishing items into, and how the heck do they do it. Nicole explains! Meet Nicole:
What is your name, and where are you from?
Nicole Baker Loke (I just got married, so I’m getting used to my new name 😄), and I’m originally from Buffalo, NY.
What is your experience in the commercial fishing industry?
I worked as a fisheries observer from 2010-2015 in Dutch Harbor, Kodiak, and Akutan (all Alaska) on trawl vessels. Fisheries observers are the scientists that are deployed on commercial fishing vessels and collect information about what fishermen are catching. This information gets used to manage fisheries in the US, for things like setting catch limits. I learned more on my first day on a boat than I did in any natural resource management class I took in college, and working on boats is what inspired me to get my master’s degree in fisheries.
Could you please explain what you do for someone who has never heard of Net Your Problem?
We provide a recycling service for fishermen that are done using their nets and lines. Recycling is an alternative option to taking end-of-life fishing gear to the landfill, incinerating it, or storing it in their front yard forever. After collecting enough to fill a shipping container, we load it up and then export the old gear to our global recycling partners.
What first inspired you to start Net Your Problem?
I first got the idea to recycle fishing gear after seeing a shoe Adidas made from confiscated fishing gear. The shoe was a concept idea, but it brought to my attention the fact that fishing gear was made from plastic. And if it’s plastic, we should recycle it, so thats where the idea was born. After I made my first trip back to Dutch Harbor as a recycler, I was encouraged by my fishermen friends to start a business to make money and continue doing this year after year. A business is a more sustainable way to think about waste management and collecting garbage than a non-profit model that relies on grants and unpaid labor.
I read that you recycle materials like midwater trawl, codend, bottom trawl net, footrope, cable, seine web (any color), chafing gear, purse line, float line (from pot gear), soft buoys, gillnet web, and weedline. What do these recycled materials turn into? And how are they transformed?
Most of the gear we collect gets mechanically recycled (shredded, washed, melted, and extruded) into raw plastic pellets that then get resold back onto the global plastics market for use in manufacturing. The possibilities for those pellets are endless; kayaks, phone cases, sunglasses (such as Waterhaul sunglasses). For gear that is really degraded, we can use waste-to-energy or waste-to-fuel processes to generate electricity or use the nets as alternative fuels. Some recyclers utilize what’s known as chemical recycling to break down the plastic into the hydrogen and carbon building blocks and then build those back up into other petroleum products.
What logistics are in place to gather these materials? How many people work on your team? What other companies do you work with?
I have two others on my team, Erin, who is based in Maine and Sara who is based in California. We need to organize collecting the gear from the fishermen, storing the gear until we have enough to load a container, trucking containers, shipping them on the ocean and customs paperwork. We have two different models currently working. One is where we start collection programs where they didn’t previously exist. The other is to assist community groups or Tribes with finding new markets for gear they have been collecting for years before NYP started.
What makes your company stand out from other recycling programs out there?
To be honest, I’m not aware of many companies that are doing what I am doing, especially in the US. In other countries, recyclers are closer or the incentives are different which make recycling either mandatory or cheaper than alternatives. We don’t have any fishing gear recyclers in the US, and in some places the landfill is free, so the incentives are a little upside down. We have an uphill battle, but we are getting there. Over the past three years, we have collected 914,000 lbs for recycling from Alaska, Washington, Maine, and California.
How can fishermen from both coasts participate in what you do?
They can choose to recycle their gear if they fish in a port where there is already a collection point, and if not, please reach out to us and tell us you want one and help us find the right partners to fund it. We don’t believe that the entire cost of recycling should rest on fishermen; many entities benefit from diverting material from the landfill and properly managing maritime waste – so they should all pay some of the costs.
Anything you’d like to add?
It sometimes easy to forget how much fishermen personally sacrifice to bring us healthy, sustainable protein, so I would like to express my sincere gratitude for all the fishermen, and fishing families, that work so hard to bring delicious food to my table.🐟
Where do you or your partner fish, and would they be into a recycling program like this? We’d love to know; please share your location in the comments below!