Old Fishing Gear and Marine Debris Processed to Produce Energy in Florida

Derelict crab pots marine debris
Derelict crab pots. Image courtesy of NOAA.

More than one and a half tons of old fishing gear and marine debris were removed from Florida’s waterways and coastline during the past several months and converted into clean, renewable energy at the Pinellas County Resource Recovery Facility. ReelCycle, a Florida-based non-profit that develops sustainable recycling programs for fishing gear and Fishing for Energy, a partnership between the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), the NOAA Marine Debris Program, Covanta and Schnitzer Steel Industries, joined forces to collect and responsibly dispose of hundreds of abandoned fishing traps.

“Covanta and our partners have worked with ports across the country to collect old, derelict or unusable fishing gear and debris. This program significantly increases the likelihood that abandoned gear does not remain in the marine environment where it can cause harm to aquatic life as well as commercial fishing operations. We’re happy to partner with Pinellas County and provide an environmentally responsible option in recycling and disposing of ReelCycle’s collected gear,” said Margretta Morris, Covanta’s Vice President of Materials Management & Community Affairs.

“The Fishing for Energy bin program is an opportunity for fishermen to dispose of old fishing gear free of charge. Proper disposal of fishing gear can help minimize impacts that lost or abandoned nets, lines, and traps can have on our natural resources and our economy,” said Nancy Wallace, Director of the NOAA Marine Debris Program. “We are happy to see communities and groups like ReelCycle choose to utilize this unique opportunity.”

The Pinellas County Resource Recovery Facility, operated by Covanta, serves Pinellas County residents with sustainable management of municipal solid waste by using waste to generate clean, renewable energy. The facility can process up to 3,150 tons per day of solid waste and generates up to 75 megawatts (MW) of electricity, enough to power 40,000 homes.

Pinellas County’s Solid Waste Director, Kelsi Oswald, highlighted the value of the partnership with Fishing for Energy, saying, “If the commercial fishermen bring in their unusable, derelict gear and then it’s processed here to remove the metal and capture the energy value from the rest of the old gear, that’s a great benefit to the ocean environment, the fishermen, and the community as a whole.”

ReelCycle aims to partner with non-profit organizations, businesses, trade associations, individuals and governmental organizations to facilitate prosperous and sustainable recycling programs of fishing-based gear, items, and materials.  It is estimated that there are thousands of abandoned crab traps in the Tampa Bay area that have been accumulating for decades.  The temporary crab fishery closure by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is a unique opportunity that only happens once every two years.  This closure allowed for ReelCycle and local partner, Tampa Bay Watch, to remove several hundred traps that were located in Tampa Bay waters.

“ReelCycle is proud to partner with Covanta utilizing their Fishing for Energy partnership in properly disposing the derelict traps and providing both conservation and socioeconomic benefits to the community,” said Devin Sanderson, Founder and President of ReelCycle.

The Fishing for Energy Partnership, launched in 2008, reduces the amount of abandoned fishing gear that accumulates in U.S. coastal waters by offering commercial fishermen a no-cost opportunity to dispose of old, lost or unusable fishing gear at designated locations throughout the country. Collected gear and debris is recycled and processed to generate electricity at Covanta energy-from-waste facilities. The partnership also awards grants that prevent gear loss, minimize the impact of lost gear, and remove derelict gear from the ocean.

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