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‘Fishing for Energy’ comes to town

Posted: Friday, Aug 7th, 2009

Effort recycles and converts derelict,

unusable fishing gear

Newport has joined Garibaldi as the first port communities in Oregon to participate in an innovative partnership to provide a cost-free way for fishermen to dispose of old fishing gear.

Port of Newport officials gathered Wednesday morning with other local, state, and federal government representatives at the port’s International Terminal site to announce involvement in the “Fishing for Energy” initiative. Launched in 2008 through a partnership of Covanta Energy Corporation, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program, and Portland-based Schnitzer Steel Industries, Inc., the program aims to reduce marine waste and use it to generate electricity.

The program helps port communities reduce the amount of derelict fishing gear in and around coastal waters by providing no-cost access to collection bins. Working with local and state agencies, community and fishing groups, and local ports, the partnership installs bins at strategic locations where fishermen can easily dispose of unwanted gear. One large bin is now located near the International Terminal and Foulweather Trawl.

“When it’s there and it’s easy, it gets done,” said state Rep. Jean Cowan (D-Newport), noting that she is recreational boater. “This is an excellent step forward.”

The NOAA Marine Debris Program identifies derelict fishing gear as one of the major impacts on marine environments. Debris threatens marine resources and habitats and hinders safe navigation. Derelict fishing gear can continue to “fish” commercially valuable species, as well as catch non-target species, including those listed as threatened or endangered. It can also snag active fishing gear, costing fishermen time and money.

Modeled on a successful multi-partner project in Hawaii, the Fishing for Energy partnership gives fishermen a place to dispose of any derelict gear they fish out of the water, and eases the cost associated with dumping old fishing gear into landfills.

Schnitzer Steel - which recovers and reuses metal from locomotives, bridges, barges, vehicles, and appliances, and has 42 facilities in 13 states (including seven export sites on the east and west coasts) - collects the gear from filled bins; salvages any metal from crab pots, gear rigging, and other items; and processes plastic, rope, and nets for transport to the nearest of Covanta’s 38 facilities. Covanta’s energy-from-waste process burns tons of municipal solid waste, household trash, and marine debris in combustion chambers, reducing it to 10 percent of its original volume, and generating steam and electricity the company sells to various industries and communities.

Already successful at 10 east coast sites - among them Newport, R.I., and Portland, Maine - the Fishing for Energy partnership has reeled in more than 200 tons of old fishing gear.

“The idea has Oregon written all over it,” U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) noted in a letter about the latest marine debris collection effort. “Having the fisheries agencies, the ports, and the waste and recycling industries all working together shows what can be done when everyone gets together to solve an environmental problem.”

The program also meshes well with other efforts already in place.

Past and present

“This is a logical next step,” said Ginny Goblirsch, who heads up the Port of Newport’s board of commissioners.

She referred to the “Don’t Teach Your Trash to Swim” project initiated in the mid-1980s - the first project funded by a grant from the federal Marine Entanglement Research Program (MERP) created in 1985. The port developed a refuse reception facility and mariner awareness program.

In 2006, Oregon Sea Grant officials helped write an application for a NOAA grant “to design and test new ways of finding and retrieving gear,” and assisted in coordinating a diverse group of fishermen, regulators, and agencies “to put the project in action.”

Initially aimed at recovering trawl nets, the project took a different tack after public meetings identified crab pots as the main offshore marine debris problem. Retrieval efforts in 2006 - backed by matching funds from the Oregon Crab Commission to help pay for two commercial vessels and crews experienced in crabbing and trawling to fish for lost gear, and assistance from other agencies - were deemed “a resounding success,” leaving participants looking to “collaborate on further grant applications to help refine retrieval techniques,” according to a January 2007 Sea Grant report.

In July 2009, NOAA announced a $699,000 grant to fund a two-year collaborative effort to remove up to 4,000 derelict Dungeness crab pots and other lost fishing gear - in all, 150 to 180 metric tons of marine debris.

Fishing for Energy adds another dimension to those efforts.

“We don’t have to waste anything on the ocean, or discard anything from the land into the sea,” said Lincoln County Commissioner Terry Thompson, a long-time commercial fisherman. Such projects are part of what he called a transition within the fishing fleet from the days of “tossing your trash overboard” to no longer teaching trash to swim.

Terry Dillman is the assistant editor of the News-Times. Contact him at (541) 265-8571, ext 225, or terrydillman@newportnewstimes.com.

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