Recycled fish nets have many uses

Reprocessing turns old fishing gear into bicycle seats, sneakers and much more

“Plastics.”

It was a word of advice from a family friend to the young college graduate in the award-winning 1967 film “The Graduate.”

“There’s a great future in plastics,” a friend of the family tells young Benjamin Braddock, played by Dustin Hoffman.

“Think about it. Will you think about it?”

That one quote, “plastics,” in a brief conversation during Braddock’s college graduation party, has gone down in movie quote history, in a coming of age film classic that had nothing at all to do with plastics, or commercial fishing nets.

Fast forward to the early 1990s, when fishermen in Cordova, along with Bellingham, Seattle, and Anacortes, Washington, found out that the real great future in plastics would help them to recycle old fishing nets, which were eventually recycled into bicycle seats in Taiwan.

Recycling of commercial fishing nets has turned out to be a benefit to the marine environment and a lucrative business for those skilled at reprocessing those discarded fish nets by the ton into useable products ranging from plastic beads with multiple commercial uses to athletic sneakers sold by Adidas.

Former North Pacific groundfish fisheries observer Nicole Baker, now a researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle, is now in her second year of a program focused on removing more discarded fish nets from the Dutch Harbor area.

Efforts to clean up the growing environmental problems caused by discarded plastics and create new, useable products are constantly in the news, and the focus of Plastics News  (www.plasticsnews.com) a 46,000-circulation weekly trade newspaper focused primarily on North American markets.

For Alaska, that future in plastics for the fishing industry all began in the early 1990s in Cordova.

A 1995 report by Fran Recht for the Alaska Fisheries Science Center documents recycling projects in Cordova and the three Washington State cities to collect and recycling large amounts of old commercial fishing nets.

In her report Recht acknowledges the organizational skills, enthusiasm and persistence of Leah Grey and Linden O’Toole that assured a successful program in Cordova. She also salutes then Cordova City Manager Jeff Currier and Mayor Kelly Weaverling for supporting the experimental project despite budget and labor crunches, and many volunteers and businesses who donated time and supplies to the effort at Cordova.