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Net recycling gets a boost in Dillingham

Courtesy of Nicole Baker

The Curyung Tribe has been recycling nets in Dillingham for years. This season, the program is getting a boost. 


The Curyung Tribe has been recycling nets in Dillingham for years. This season, the program is getting a boost. 

The tribe is partnering with Net Your Problem, a business that began recycling fishing nets two years ago. Founder Nicole Baker got the idea for the business from a nonprofit – Parlay for the Oceans – which partnered with Adidas.

"They made a sneaker out of gillnets that had been recovered from the ocean or were confiscated – I can't remember the exact context," she said. "But for me, that moment was when I realized that fishing nets were made out of plastic, and plastic can be recycled, so fishing nets can be recycled." 

Net Your Problem began in the summer of 2017, when Baker went to Dutch Harbor to recycle trawl fishing nets with the support of a nonprofit.  

"Afterwards I realized that to keep doing that without applying for grants and looking for funding, that I really needed to set up a business, in order to make it sustainable and something that I could keep doing every year," she said.

This is the first summer Net Your Problem has come to Bristol Bay. The business currently recycles nets in Dutch Harbor and Kodiak, where it has collected just over half a million pounds of nets. Baker also travelled to Naknek in early July, in the hopes of starting a program there next year.

While fishermen in Kodiak and Dutch Harbor pay to recycle their nets, Dillingham fishermen can do so for free. 

"The landfill was getting overrun by bad web that the fishermen were changing out, so the tribe decided that they'd like to start recycling the used web, and for several years, that's what we've been doing," said Dan Decker, an environmental assistant with the Curyung Tribe in Dillingham. 

According to Decker, the tribe just started accepting seine gear this year. 

"It's an environmental issue," Decker explained. "If we don't take care of it, it fills up the landfill, and this web takes up a lot of space. And it doesn't degrade. So the tribe recognized that there was an issue, and they took the necessary steps to try to fix the issue, which was to recycle the web."

Baker will work with the tribe to streamline its existing program in Dillingham using a new company based in British Columbia – SOP Richmond Recycle, Inc. will pay for the material.

Baker said not many companies are set up to process net material. SOP Richmond started out recycling carpet.

"So they have this razorblade that shaves off the fuzzy part of the carpet from the backing, and that material is the same material that the gillnets are made out of. It's nylon, which is a type of plastic. So they've modified their operations now to be able to accept gillnets in addition to carpet."

There have been multiple attempts to recycle nets in other parts of the state. Baker's goal is to make the program sustainable.

"When fishermen have nets to get rid of, they know what to do, they know who to call. And I suspect as you generate nets, the participation will increase," she said. "So I think there is a backlog of material now to deal with, and that's just getting people to take the time to go through their piles and sort out what is bad and what is good. When that backlog is cleared, then it's hopefully just like, 'Oh, well I have a net to get rid of today, I know exactly what to do with it.'" 

Fishermen can drop off their nets in a designated area next to the Dillingham harbor. Before recycling nets, it is important they are cleaned of debris and twine and striped all cork and lead lines.

Contact the author at isabelle@kdlg.org 907-842-2200.


Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.