FISH FACTOR: Grundens partners with Alaskans for recycled net fishing gear
Recycled fishing nets from Cordova will soon help launch a new clothing line by Grundens, the maker of the iconic foul weather gear “built by fishermen for fishermen for over a century.”
The Copper River Watershed Project is “refreshing” its net recycling program underway for a decade that’s been backed by the Pacific Marine States Commission. Now, the program wants to broaden its base and stand on its own, said operations manager Shae Bowman.
“The vision with a new program is to create a self-sustaining recycling program that is a valued asset to the commercial fishing fleet. We also want to provide a high quality product to recyclers. And we don’t want to have to be constantly chasing down grants and sources of funding,” Bowman said, adding that the project has recycled more than 200,000 pounds over 10 years.
Enter Nicole Baker, founder of Net Your Problem, who since 2015 has jumpstarted net recycling programs across Alaska. Her work so far has included gathering and shipping primarily plastic trawl nets to Europe where they are recycled into pellets for sale to makers of a myriad of products from skateboards to cellphone covers.
“I think the gillnet fleet is pretty dialed in, but seines are made out of the same type of plastic that gillnets are, so those two gear types can be recycled together,” Baker said.
A goal is to fill a 40-foot shipping container this summer. But changes in the recycling market mean that unlike before, the nets must be clean and stripped before drop off.
“You have to collect a really high quality product that somebody wants to buy,” Bowman explained. “We don’t want to collect something that’s full of garbage and that’s the problem we’ve been struggling with. I really want to get the word out that we need to recycle nets better. Our nets coming in need to be clean and stripped of any non-nylon material; that’s the cork lines, the lead lines, the hanging twine, all that needs to be removed to increase our quality.”
European recyclers will turn the Cordova nets not into pellets for making other plastics, but yarn for clothing.
“Our statement as a brand is ‘we are fishing,’” said Mat Jackson, Grundens chief marketing officer. “We believe it’s really important to use our brand voice and strength to help protect and maintain healthy marine environments and to lend a hand where we can. But at some point, you’ve got to just start doing it and making the process happen. And when talking with Nicole, Cordova became something that seemed like a tangible opportunity.”
Jackson said the net recycling project also dovetails nicely with Grundens new clothing line.
“In 2021 we are launching a full line of products from technical outerwear to more lifestyle casual items like shorts built out of “Econyl” regenerated nylon, which is largely comprised of recycled fishing nets and has been a main source that Nicole has been pursuing in terms of shipping this gear out of Alaska and into a recycler supply chain,” Jackson said, adding that he believes it is “a really powerful package.”
“Our consumer base is commercial fishermen, but it also includes recreational fishermen and delivering them a product that fits their needs, performs at a high level, and is built from recycled material that our core customer uses to make a living, we just feel is an incredibly powerful message to help put the spotlight on these efforts and hopefully build a coalition around this process,” Jackson said. “Because it’s going to take more than just our brand getting involved. This really has to become an effort that the whole industry starts to embrace.”
“My big hope,” she said, “is that if we can get this program to work out, it can serve as a model for other commercial fishing communities in Alaska as they look into setting up a recycling program.
Seafood Council redux
“Got Milk?” … “Beef – It’s What’s for Dinner!” … “Pork – The Other White Meat” … “The Incredible, Edible Egg” … those are familiar brand slogans, all backed by the producers who pitch their products with a unified voice.
From livestock to fruits and dairy, most U.S. food makers have some sort of national marketing board supported by federal and industry dollars to promote their products. Seafood could soon be among them.
Reviving a dormant National Seafood Council is gaining steam among industry members, especially as Covid-19 upends markets.
About a year ago, Seafood Source reports that the Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee brought up the idea to restart the council. MAFAC is a federal advisory committee to the Secretary of Commerce and NOAA Fisheries. Since then, the idea has met with lots of enthusiasm, and MAFAC has formed an 11-member task force to move forward.
A National Seafood Council was created by the U.S. Fish and Seafood Promotion Act in 1987. It operated for five years before running out of money and becoming quietly defunct. MAFAC members agreed that if any food could now benefit from more consumer education, it’s seafood.
A National Seafood Council could help with marketing, research, and educational awareness for all U.S. fish and shellfish products, both farmed and wild. It also could improve consumer confidence by allaying concerns about seafood safety and sustainability, and highlighting its many proven health benefits.
The MAFAC committee’s first task is to define what direction a promotional council could take. Another is checking the language in the 1987 Act to make sure it is meeting the needs of today.
The core mission would be simple: to get Americans to buy and eat more seafood.
Patron saint of salmon
As Alaska’s salmon season gets underway, it seems appropriate to acknowledge the patron saint of salmon: Saint Kentigern of Scotland.
Born long ago in 518, Kentigern was the illegitimate son of a king’s daughter.
He trained as a priest at a monastery, where his sainthood evolved around a dangerous love-triangle.
Legend has it that the king suspected his wife of having an affair, because she had given one of her favorite rings to a court favorite. The king took the ring when the man was sleeping and threw it far out into the River Clyde.
When he returned home, the king angrily demanded that his wife show him the missing ring and threatened her with death if she could not produce it. In her misery, the queen beseeched the priest Kentigern to help her.
Kentigern took a fishing rod to the spot where the ring had been flung into the river and quickly caught a salmon. Amazingly, upon cutting it open the ring was found in the salmon’s belly.
The queen was able to deliver the ring to her doubting husband and peace was restored.
From the time of his death in 603, Kentigern was regarded as Scotland’s patron saint and the cathedral at Glasgow was built in his honor. To this day Kentigern’s figure and symbols, including a salmon, make up that city’s coat of arms.
So who knows? Perhaps a quick prayer to the patron saint of salmon will lead more fish to your nets.