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article imageGreen Thumbs Up: Turning Alaska's fishery waste into treasure

By Karen Graham     Jan 3, 2016 in Environment
Juneau - Here's a question for you: what would you do with the over two billion pounds of byproducts, including fish skins and crab shells, that Alaskan fisheries typically throw away each year?
If you happen to be Craig Kasberg, a young man who grew up in Alaska, and began working on fishing boats at the age of 15, and owned his own boat by the age of 19, then you might be just the right person to understand and appreciate the need for creating a sustainable and environmentally conscious business plan.
Besides being a hard-working Alaskan and ecology-minded, Craig became concerned over the growing problem of fisheries waste, including salmon skins and crab shells, usually dumped and left to rot each year. “You see these pipes where they’re just grinding up byproducts and dumping them into the ocean or into landfills to rot,” he says.
Seafood waste piles up on the seafloor  smothering bottom-dwelling aquatic life. Ketchikan  Alaska.
Seafood waste piles up on the seafloor, smothering bottom-dwelling aquatic life. Ketchikan, Alaska.
There is a particularly worrisome problem with crab shells, Kasberg told Inhabitat. “The crab shells are the biggest environmental threat as far as byproducts go. There are documented incidences where too many were dumped in a bay and killed off a keystone species on the bottom, which had a negative impact on the ecosystem locally. I kept thinking there has to be something we can do with that," Kasberg says.
In May 2015, Tidal Visions was born, and the very first product introduced was Alaska wild salmon leather wallets made from discarded skins on Kickstarter. By August, wallets were ready to be shipped, with more in the process of being made.
Founder and CEO Kasberg says the idea for his company, Tidal Visions, didn't come from looking for ideas on making textiles, but basically from trying to figure out a way to use fisheries waste byproducts. Kasberg says fish skin leather, or “aquatic leather" is just one way to upcycle the waste. Wallets, cell phone holders, and belts are just the start of a line of products that could be made.
Tidal Visions uses a 24-step tanning process for "aquatic leather," starting with the removal of the fish scales. While it may appear to be complicated, the finished product retains its natural durability and the natural silver or brown color of the fish skin.
Chitosan (pronounced Kyte-Oh-San) is the material extracted from crab and shrimp shells. Tidal Visions doesn't just coat a fabric with the material, but the company's Chitoskin incorporates the material right into the threads of the fabric, making it naturally durable and odor-resistant.
Alaska s iconic king crab.
Alaska's iconic king crab.
Brad Bowerman
Following through with his beliefs in being totally sustainable, Kasberg says the company's closed-loop ChitoSkin production process does not use corrosive chemicals like some manufacturers rely on for chitin processing. “We recycle 89 percent of the chemicals and the other 11 percent reacts with the proteins, lipids and pigments in the shells and becomes a really good fertilizer,” Kasberg says.
Another point to consider is that Tidal Visions only buys waste products from certified sustainable fisheries, which helps those companies financially. The big plus with a lot of customers is the company's “visual and wearable symbols” that highlight the importance of protecting our oceans and harvesting them responsibly.
Kasberg has a vision. “I grew up in Alaska, and traditionally people here celebrate the fish,” he says. “I want everyone to start looking at waste differently. Our plan is to keep figuring out how to utilize fish to their fullest potential."
Green Thumbs Up is a weekly feature that looks into ways we can live more sustainable and environmentally-friendly lives. In case you missed last week's column on consumers making use of "not so pretty vegetables and fruit," please go HERE.
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