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Fish waste-to-compost project starting in Dillingham this month

Fish waste will be spread over an open cell at the landfill, and should provide compost for gardeners and growers by next year.

Around this time next year, Dillingham gardeners should have access to some compost made from the waste of locally caught salmon. A grant-funded project is taking off at the Dillingham landfill in August, and it will need some good fish waste to get going. KDLG’s Dave Bendinger has more:

Audio transcript below:

A grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service Coastal Community Impact Assistance Program is helping kick start a project that has an equally lengthy title:

“I’m calling the Fish Waste Compost Project," says Gabe Dunham, the Marine Advisory Program Agent in Bristol Bay. Dunham inherited the project and is nudging it past the planning phase this month.

“What we’ve got are basically some funds to set up this fish waste composting collection and facility to provide local gardeners with fresh compost in their garden," he says. "It’s probably going to ready about this time next year.”

Producing that compost, which won’t be ready till next year, will take a fair amount of fish waste this year, and the plan calls for a focus on making use of subsistence fish waste. Though it’s a little late in the season for most people’s fishing efforts, Dunham is hoping that the scraps from whatever salmon are still caught, likely silvers, ends up in a separate waste bin marked UAF Seagrant that’ll be in place by the second week in August.

“What I’m asking people to do is if they see that smaller bin out there that’s marked with our project’s name, go ahead and put your fish waste in there and we’re going to use that and make compost out of."

The City has allowed the project to use a portion of a closed landfill cell, and final approval from Alaska's DEC is still pending. Hence the hold up on putting the second waste bin out.

Dunham says the composting technique has been proven at other projects, that an electric fence should help deter bears, and then there’s that other concern of leaving fish waste around to dry: stench.

“To cut down on any smell, each compost row will be layered with top soil, and also then further covered with a material called ComposTex," says Dunham. "It’s basically a fabric that kind of keeps the moisture in, keeps additional rain off, and the heat in the pile the way it’s supposed to be.”

As the project is grant funded for now, the compost will be free next year, and probably sold after that. The separate fish waste bin should be in place around the 13 of August, and Dunham’s hoping that those looking to put away some silvers might wait just a bit so the scraps go to good use too.