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Fish Waste: Profitable solutions to processors' problems

By Ron Kinnunen, Michigan Sea Grant
For 2011 Fall issue of Mazina'igan, page 5

Marquette, Michigan - Michigan's commercial fish processing industry generates approximately five million pounds of waste annually from handling lake whitefish, lake trout, and salmon. The industry has long been challenged by the disposal or reuse of that waste.
In an effort to help the industry find better solutions to handling fish processing waste, Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University (MSU) Extension hosted a workshop on the issue in early 2010.
The workshop addressed issues ranging from disposal methods to potential uses of the waste. Charles Gould, an MSU Extension educator with compost and bioenergy production expertise, said that fish processors have five disposal options - burial, land application landfill, wastewater treatment and composting. State regulations define each disposal method. Specific details about each disposal methods are posted at Fish Waste
Gould talked in depth about compost production and anaerobic digestion. Fish waste can be made into high quality compost and be readily sold a premium price.
Gould said that one farmer he has been working with for about three years is composting sheep manure and is getting $22 for a 50pound bag and $150/cubic yard (a cubic year is about 800 pounds). High quality compost made from fish waste should fetch a comparable price.
A study completed in 2005 pointed out that, if all the commercial fish waste in the Eastern Upper Peninsula were composted and sold as a premium product, the value of the compost to the producer would be over $900,000. This same study postulated that compost sold simply as cash and carry to gardeners is worth about $80,000. (see Compost and click on Publications)
Michigan is a compost-deficit state and there is a lot of room for growth in the compost market, according to Gould. Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula have and advantage over the rest of the state in that sources of carbon are more readily available. Gould said that anaerobic digestion holds great promise as a way to extract value from fish waste. A digester produces two outputs - biogas and digestate. Biogas can be used to generate electricity or replace natural gals The digestate had no objectionable odor and can be land applied without odor concerns. The nutrients in fish waste are mineralized (meaning the nutrients are changed to a more plant available form) during the digesting process, thus increasing the value of digestate as a fertilizer.
Gould encouraged fish processors to think of fish waste management in terms of a sustainable system. He emphasized thinking of fish waste as something with value rather than a waste. He stressed putting fish waste in a form that processors either use or that will bring an additional revenue stream into the business.

 

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