37. Fishing Nets with Nicole Baker from Net Your Problem

A service to bring end-of-life fishing nets to the recycler.

The idea is that we make recycling for fishermen very easy. So once they give us their nets, it's not their problem anymore.   

Pristine Ocean: Nicole Baker, founder of Net Your Problem: welcome to the Pristine Ocean Podcast.

Nicole Baker: Appreciate it. Thanks for having me, Peter.

Pristine Ocean: It's a really interesting title, Net Your Problem. Sounds a little bit like not your problem. Whose problem is it actually

Nicole Baker: well, it's funny you say that, first of all, I didn't come up with the name. So my sister did, so we have to give her credit for that. But yeah, it is sort of a play off of not your problem, because the idea is that we make recycling for fishermen. Very easy. So once they give us their nets, it's not their problem anymore.

It becomes my problem. And I dispose of them and deal with them in a responsible way.

Pristine Ocean: Okay. What problem do fishermen have within their nets.? I thought that nets are pretty stable and long lasting.

Nicole Baker: Yeah, they do. They can last depending on the type of gear from one year to seven years, depending on what fishery they're in and how much fish they're catching, but they reach their end of life. Just like any other [00:01:00] item does eventually and need to be replaced.

Overdub: So when the nets get replaced, what are the disposal options available to the fishermen?

Nicole Baker: Currently the. Top three disposal options would be take it to a landfill, let it sit in my front yard or in a storage yard or incinerate it in some way. And we just don't feel like those are very good disposal options. They waste a lot of resources and fill up landfills. So we are offering recycling as an alternative.

Overdub: How does it look from the point of view of the fishermen? I guess they have a lot of things on their plate to keep a fishing operation going. Do fishermen see the available disposal options as the problem.

Nicole Baker: Well, I think part of what our job is, is to convince them that they do have a problem with those disposal options. I mean, landfill is not. Necessarily a [00:02:00] problem, right? It's, it's managed properly. It's a legal way of disposing of stuff. But what we try to communicate is is that really the best option for this piece of equipment at the end of its life.

And so part of what our job is to is to say we offer recycling, this is why recycling is better. This is easy for you to participate. Here's all the benefits. And to try to convince them. To come over to our side and to do recycling instead of just tossing it in a landfill for it to be there for how many hundreds of years.

Pristine Ocean: Fishing sounds like a very traditional way of life where possibly generations have have fished.

Nicole Baker: Definitely generations. I read a story recently about a guy that was an 11th generation fisherman. So there is a lot of history this is the way my dad or my mom did something. So this is the way that I'm going to do it. Part of that culture maybe people are just not interested [00:03:00] in changing or doing things differently, but it is an industry that has a lot of this is the way we do things kind of mentality.

Pristine Ocean: So if you're going up against 11 generations of the way things are being done, what kind of messaging do you use?

Nicole Baker: well, I think what we have been using is sort of recycling is better than the landfill we're saving space, we're conserving petroleum resources we're reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

As we increase our, geographic reach, we realized that that message is not going to be necessarily the one that convinces people to change their behavior in other places.

So I can't say that I have an idea of what the new messaging is, but because we've tried things and it hasn't worked, we're now needing to change. And I think that. The nature of a startup or a small business is that you're doing something different. So you give it a go and see what happens. And if it doesn't [00:04:00] work, you need to come up with a new strategy.

So you get out and talk to the fishermen and get a feel for what in important to them. That sounds like a lot of work.

So you get out and talk to the fishermen and get a feel for what is important for them. That sounds like, like a lot of work.

Nicole Baker: That's my favorite part really, of net your problem so far is walking the docks and talking with fishermen. I could do that all day long. So that's not any kind of arduous


Pristine Ocean: Well, tell us about that. What is your fishing background?

Nicole Baker: Yeah, I was a fisheries observer, which is a position in the United States government where you collect data from commercial fishing vessels or professional fishing. And you report that data to the federal government. So that's things like where fishermen are fishing. What species of fish are they catching?

What [00:05:00] length are those fish? What age are those fish? And all of that data gets input into stock assessment models that basically say, okay, we have, 10 fish in this area and we can sustainably harvest. Four of them, because that means six will be left over and those will have babies and they'll make more fish later.

So that is my field experience, I did that job for about five years off in the fisheries, in Alaska. And then that job and a conversation with a particular fisherman actually inspired me to go and do that study for my master's degree.

I studied the conch fishery, which is the shell where you put it up on your ear. You can hear the ocean there. So that's a species of shellfish that's harvested and eaten by a lot of people in the Caribbean. And I. Scuba diving surveys where we had underwater scooters, like in James Bond and we would be diving and counting and measuring.

[00:06:00] And now I work at The university of Washington at the school of aquatic and fishery sciences. And I work in a lab where we all different kinds of fisheries management for fisheries Are the rules working?

Are the rules not working? Are fishermen competing with fish? Are we catching all the fish that we could what's limiting us from producing sustainable seafood. So we have a lot of different research projects on fisheries that are, that are happening right


Pristine Ocean: Sounds like you're heavily into fish but you're living the life. You know, you're getting out there. You love walking the docks and talking to fishermen. What fascinates you about fishing and fishermen and the ocean,

Nicole Baker: Yeah, that's a good question, actually. I mean, it's, I shouldn't say I'm always walking the docks, right. Because I feel like I spend enough time behind the computer also writing proposals and doing business admin and stuff. So I think it's a balanced. I think for me, it's just about hearing their stories.

Like how did they get [00:07:00] involved in fishing? They're the sort of like lineage the amount of knowledge that they know, the hard work that they do to bring food to people and just the wild life that they live in that I was part of for a while. I think when people ask me what Alaska is, like, I though the word that I used to describe that is wild because it's just so.

Unlike anything. I think that we experience in our daily lives mountains and vast oceans and big waves and, orcas or killer whales swimming right next to your boat. So I think it's just that whole sort of vibe and system and place and all of the people being these salty sea dogs kind of, but I don't think they're as Indifferent about the natural world as a lot of people think. So I feel very privileged to have friends that are fishermen and be in that world and share that with.[00:08:00]

Pristine Ocean: Great. And how do they think, do they say that they see a degregation.

Nicole Baker: I think, I guess degradation depends on what you're specifically talking about. Right. There are a lot of problems that are facing our oceans, like pollution and acidification from climate change. Plastic pollution as a specific part of that or over fishing of fisheries resources. So I wouldn't say really, no, I think a lot of them definitely are concerned with, passing on this career or this life to the next generation. Especially when that is your kids, your direct descendants. I think a lot of people's. Say, I want this world to be habitable for my kids. That's a really emotional connection that people have. So fishermen are just the same. They had this life enjoyed. It, made a living from it and want that to be available to

their kids.

Pristine Ocean: So getting back to the knits, how does that fit [00:09:00] with the narrative of keeping that world.

Nicole Baker: Yeah, I think it's just about reducing your environmental footprint and any ways that you can, I think any industry has its impact. So if there's something small that you can do to improve that, I think that makes it so that. Your generation will have the same opportunities that you do if we keep thinking critically about the impact that we have on our environment.

And so the nets is just a part of that

Pristine Ocean: Let's get back to Net Your Problem. It's a startup

Nicole Baker: When I hear the word startup, I think sort of like these tech. Startups that want to go public on the stock market. And that's a little bit different than what we're trying to do. So I would say probably small business

Pristine Ocean: you. Service what do you see as a gap in the market

Nicole Baker: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. That there is not recycling services available in the U S for fish.

Pristine Ocean: why not? [00:10:00]

Nicole Baker: I think it's because there weren't the facilities to process those nets. So the recycling companies that we send the nets to are similar in age to us, five to seven years. So if you were a fisherman 10 years ago and you wanted to recycle your nets, I don't think that option would have been there. So I think as there is more discussion about.

Plastic and plastic waste and exporting it to developing countries. And we don't want to do that anymore. And we want to take responsibility for our waste and we don't want to be pulling oil out of the ground to make Virgin plastic. We want to be reusing what we have, those that type of sort of social consciousness, I guess, maybe is made it so.

These, these facilities have emerged. And so now there is the recycling option, but I think it's hard to every individual fishermen to be aware of that. [00:11:00] And also there is some sort of economies of scale, basically, where if I'm a fishermen with one net, it's not reasonable for me to just send my one net to the recycling.

So, what we're able to offer is sort of, okay, we'll take nets from this guy and this guy and this girl, and put them all together and then we can organize to send those for recycling and we make it sort of net their problem by taking care of that arrangement. So we just say, this is where you have to drop the net off and then we'll take care of all the rest because fishermen have a lot of other competing priorities.

Pristine Ocean: Okay, so you have a drop off point in Alaska in Dutch Harbor.

Nicole Baker: Yeah, Dutch Harbor is the first place that we started recycling, but it's not the only place that we are currently recycling from. Dutch Harbor is like a small fishing community. That's not connected by roads or anything like that. So it's sort of this [00:12:00] insular community. So we offer recycling services.

We offer it in Kodiak. We offer it in Cordova and in Haines and in Washington and in Maine and we're working on Massachusetts. So each sort of fishing port or like small community is, is a unit that needs its own drop-off


Pristine Ocean: And can all fishing nets be recycled? I imagined that when they're in the water for a long time, that they get degraded.

Nicole Baker: The stuff that we accept is material that's at its end of life. So not anything that's recovered from the ocean, that stuff can be floating around for however many years and is growing barnacles on it. And there's all different types of plastics to mixed together. .

So there is some degradation of the materials something that gets resolved at the recycler level. So they make sure that they're producing plastic that is valuable in manufacturing and meets specific [00:13:00] requirements to make XYZ item out of plastic. So the types of plastic and the types of fishing year that we deal with, primarily our three main polymers of plastic it's polypropylene, which is number five, which is the same as what you have in like takeaway food containers, high density polyethylene, which is number two, which is the same as what's in the milk jug and then nylon or polyamide, which is like a high type of plant.

And those are found in four different categories of fisheries. So the high density, polyethylene, or number two is found in trawl fisheries. So that's when you have a boat that pulls a net behind it, and it captures all the fish that , are in front of the net. Then you have polypropylene, which is the number fives, which that comes from.

Ropes basically so ropes that you would see that tie a ship to a dock [00:14:00] or that connect a buoy to a pot, which lies on the bottom. So you have for fisheries for like crabs and lobsters and other types like that. They have pots on the bottom and then the line is connected to a buoy. So the fishermen can find it later on.

And then you also have gillnets and SANEs, which are made out of nylon fishing. So a gillnet works by hanging a vertical panel of web in the ocean. And it has a floating cork line on it and a lead line on the bottom, which keeps it oriented vertically in the water and the fish swim into that net and get stuck.

And then the other net is a persein, which is where you have a big boat and a small boat and the small boat we'll leave the big boat and in circle a school of fish with a net, and then that closes this bag of fish. And then they, they hold that [00:15:00] all the fish that are captured in the bag.

Pristine Ocean: Okay. Okay. Thanks for that.

Nicole Baker: Yeah, fisheries 1 0 1. If people are not familiar, I'm not too sure who your audience is. Peter here. So I'm trying to be very


Pristine Ocean: It's really interesting to have a perspective that you don't get anywhere

Nicole Baker: Yep. Okay, great.

Pristine Ocean: So what's the deal with the fishermen? Do they pay you money to take the nets off of their hands?

Nicole Baker: yeah. So I started net your problem as a for-profit business. And the reason that I did that is because I see a lot of examples. Non-profits that rely on volunteers and grants that have really great ideas and do something for one or two years. But then ultimately when that funding runs out, their great idea is not able to continue.

And so we are set up as a business to basically ensure the financial viability and sustainability of the services that we offer. So there is a disposal fee [00:16:00] associated with recycling. And then we also, in some cases receive money from the recyclers. They pay us for that raw material.

And then they make money by selling the pellets on the other side.

Pristine Ocean: If I'm a fisherman and I've got a hundred kilos of net and I have the option to presumably to take it to the landfill, I have to pay there as well. And that's also,

Nicole Baker: That is very regional. So there are some facilities that charge a lot of money for taking nets to the landfill.

Pristine Ocean: Okay. I suppose the question is, does the, does the fishermen pay you more than what the other options are?

Nicole Baker: That also depends in some cases yes. And in some cases, no. So when there is a very high fee at the landfill, recycling is cheaper, but I would say a majority of the time it is more effective.

Pristine Ocean: Okay. So that's a hard sell. [00:17:00]

Nicole Baker: Can be, but that's up to us to come up with the right messaging. Like we decided before and to find the people that sort of value our services. So our customers are not always the individual fishermen. So we're working with some ports, for example, to basically similarly to how they accept used oil from their fishermen and dispose of that properly.

The fees for that are sort of built into whatever they would pay to dock their vessel in the marina. We're trying to replicate that with nets too. So the port would be the one to offer this service to the fishermen and then for fishermen to bring their gear to them would not cost the individual fishermen anything.

So I think there are a lot of entities or organizations that financially benefit from the services that we offer. So it's just about finding the right ones and getting them to pay another [00:18:00] good example of this, I think is you see cities or local governments having these goals to divert so-and-so percentage of waste from their landfills.

Well, if they want to do that, they, they need to do pay for a service for somebody else So we're just, yeah. Trying to find out who those interests. Parties are and who values our services. And it's not everybody, not, not everybody is a perfect fit for

us. And that's okay

Pristine Ocean: Are there other revenue streams that you have.

Nicole Baker: that we're dipping into this year, I would say. There's obviously the revenue generated from selling the pellets that the recyclers, generate. And so what we have. Arranged with two of our recyclers, is that for any introductions that we make to them, that result in sales of the pellets, we receive a referral fee for that.

So that's revenue then that we can put back [00:19:00] into the cost of collection to hopefully lower that and make it more accessible to more people.

It's funny because I've never publicly said on any of our sort of newsletters, social media website that we sell the. But we get a lot of inquiries of so-and-so company that wants to make something out of plastic from fishing gear and can we help them?

So we develop this referral program as a way to monetize the inquiries that we were already getting.

Another thing that is a potential revenue source is selling products that are made from the recycled plastic. And so we just finished, a project like this, where we made a, a crab gauge, which is basically something that looks like half a square, based on the fisheries regulations.

So we made this tool that you hold to the back of the crab to measure it. And if it's over that, you can keep it. [00:20:00] If it's less than that, you have to throw the crab back. So we made that out of some yellow ropes that we had found on the coast of Washington beaches.

And so then we sell that product ultimately, when it's made and we can generate

revenue that way as well.

Pristine Ocean: So there's a story in the crab

Nicole Baker: gauge.

Pristine Ocean: There's a story that this has been recycled from. This was in a previous life.

Nicole Baker: Yes. And I think that story is what consumers are looking for in terms of the origin of the materials in People are concerned about where their fish comes from. People are concerned about where their meat comes from. People are, are just concerned about the origin of these materials.

There are all these fancy, like blockchain technology things too, that we're piloting to say, okay Nicole collected this line from this boat on this day, and then it got sent to this recycler and then it got turned into this batch of pellets and this company bought it and they [00:21:00] got turned into this.

And so then you can follow sort of the whole chain Very valuable to the companies that are producing the products in terms of verifying that this material is what they say it is and communicating that to their customers and telling the cool stories about , the origin of the materials in their products.

I don't know if you saw this recently, but I think seven individual pieces. Sent me a story about Samsung is now using recycled fishing nets in their phones. And so that was on BBC and all kinds of other news outlets. And everybody was like, oh, look at this. This is so cool. So I think that that really resonates


Pristine Ocean: But it can come back to them as well.

Nicole Baker: Yeah, I think don't lie. Nobody likes that. So if you're saying that you're doing something, you need to actually be doing that and be able to verify it. And I think that's the the blockchain thing can help with that. And if you're material it let's say Samsung is, [00:22:00] is using 0.1% of their phone is made out of recycled fishing gear, plastic.

That is a step in the right direction, but don't mislead people and think this whole phone is made out of recycled fishing, net plastic. And I'm not saying that they are misleading people. I'm just using that as an example. So you need to be honest with your customers. What the material that you're using, where did it actually come from?

And don't try to get support for something else when you're not actually doing it.

Pristine Ocean: . You've established yourself in this space. You developing and experimenting with different types of revenue Do you see as the most exciting

part? ,

Nicole Baker: I think the most exciting thing for me is just expanding geographically. So we we're in Alaska, we're in Maine. We just recently hired somebody in Massachusetts. We're going to be in Florida this summer. We're thinking about Gulf of [00:23:00] Mexico and Texas. And that for me is the most exciting part, I think, because it's just learning about a whole new, different type of fishing gear and a different audience and doing this kind of problem solving to bring a solution somewhere where it didn't exist before. I think what I see people being interested in is the products that gets people's attention. So we, I think have to do that also because when I bring a knife that's made out of recycled fishing gear when I'm walking the docks and show them that I think you see sort of it's clicking or the light bulb is going on or whatever analogy you want to use.

The products, I think also encourage the participation because they can see, oh, if I do this with Nicole, like, this is what this has the possibility of turning into. It's much more concrete and not so abstract. So I think maybe like pairing [00:24:00] those two things, the product development along with expanding geographically, I think might make it


Pristine Ocean: Where do you want to be in five years?

Nicole Baker: I'm glad you asked me that because we have thought about this and I have an answer. So think there is a list that NOAA, which is the national oceanic and atmospheric administration puts out that lists the top ports by landings. We would like to offer recycling services to the top 50 ports.

That's what the goal of net your problem is. I also, as I mentioned before, still work at the university. And so I would like to transition away from that and be doing net your problem full-time and be able to pay my staff full-time and Health insurance and whatever, all these benefits that I think can sometimes be hard to get.

So that would be my

five-year plan. I

Pristine Ocean: Okay, Nicole from nature problem. Thank you so much. It's a fantastic story. And. [00:25:00] I really wish that in five years time, you've got those 50 ports.

Nicole Baker: Well, thank you, Peter. I appreciate it. And thanks everybody for listening.



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