BY DYKE HENDRICKSON, STAFF WRITER
Newburyport Daily News
---- — NEWBURYPORT — The future of discarded fishing gear might be inside the recycle bin rather than on the outside of postcards illustrating quaint New England fishing communities.
City officials here have joined an initiative to collect and dispose of gear such as nets, polypropylene line and vinyl-coated wire lobster pots, which commercial fishermen sometimes find difficult to dispose of.
The program is called “Fishing for Energy,” and it was created by a partnership of fishermen, commercial interests and federal maritime officials.
Those in the partnership include the Covanta Energy Corp., the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Debris Program and Schnitzer Steel Industries, Inc.
Their plan is to provide commercial fishermen a cost-free way to recycle unusable fishing gear. One tangible element of the program: A large commercial dumpster recently was placed across from the harbormaster’s office on the riverwalk with a placard on the side, “I’m Maximizing Net Returns.”
The idea is to encourage those in the commercial fishing industry to bring in useless gear, known as ghost gear.
Material brought in will be stripped of metals and other materials for recycling, and will be processed into renewable energy at the Covanta Energy-from-Waste facility, Haverhill.
“This program increases the likelihood that derelict gear does not end up in the environment,” said Molly Ettenborough, the city’s recycling and energy coordinator, who played the major role in launching the program here.
“Abandoned or lost fishing equipment can threaten marine life in many ways.”
Newburyport joins a growing number of seaside communities that are encouraging the fishing industry to gather discarded materials.
Communities that participate in the Fishing for Energy program include Boston, Gloucester, Provincetown, Rockport and New Bedford.
Regarding Newburyport, the story goes that several local conservationists viewed a film called “Stellwagen Sweep: Restoring Stellwagen Bank National Marine Fishery” at a local film festival.
The documentary notes the hazards of lost fishing gear in the Stellwagen Bank, National Marine Fishery. The fishery is in Massachusetts Bay, between Cape Ann and Cape Cod.
National fishery officials in the film warn that “ghost gear continues to fish when it is lost on the sea floor, unnecessarily killing fish and other marine life.”
Ettenborough said one message of the film is that “when conservationists and fishermen join forces, good things can happen.”
Ettenborough contacted sponsoring organizations, and the program was launched here.
Organizers of Fishing for Energy say the organization has disposed of 1.5 million pounds of old fishing gear since being founded in 2008.
“Ghost gear causes problems,” said Kate Yeomans, a certified boat captain and supervisor of the Boat Camp here. “If draggers run into discarded or ruined nets in the ocean, it can damage their equipment and be costly.
“All sorts of refuse — including lobster traps — comes ashore after big storms, so there is a constant problem in the ocean as well as on shore. A program designed to get rid of ghost gear would be useful.”
Ettenborough said that federal maritime officials will be here in mid-August to recognize the city’s entry into the program.