Waste Not, Want Not

Theoretically all parts of a fish could be sold and used in various ways. However we live in Cordova Alaska, a place where canneries produce hundreds of pounds of fish waste every day. This waste includes mainly the head, tail and bones of the fish, parts that the cannery cannot use. All of this gets pumped into the surrounding waters where it is consumed by various marine life, including Steller sea lions, glaucous winged gulls and halibut.



Theoretically all parts of a fish could be sold and used in various ways. However we live in Cordova Alaska, a place where canneries produce hundreds of pounds of fish waste every day. This waste includes mainly the head, tail and bones of the fish, parts that the cannery cannot use. All of this gets pumped into the surrounding waters where it is consumed by various marine life, including Steller sea lions, glaucous winged gulls and halibut. Recent EPA regulations require that the waste be ground into pieces no larger than one half inch. This change disrupted a food source that many animals had grown to depend on and created a plethora of obnoxiously loud gulls (Figure #1). While these controversial regulations may or may not help solve the waste problem, we ask: why are they necessary? Why is there so much fish waste in the first place? When so much energy and time went in to catching, transporting and processing these fish, shouldn’t we do our best to completely use up the resource? Fish is a precious commodity, and currently it is being, quite literally, thrown to the birds.

Cordova, Alaska

Cordova, Alaska is a small community on the eastern side of Prince William Sound. There are 2000 winter and 3000 summer residents. The mainstay of the economy is commercial fishing supported by four processing plants located in this community. All four processors—Trident, Ocean Beauty, Copper River and Prime Select—have fish waste removal tubes flowing into Orca Inlet (Figure #2), the water body surrounding Cordova.

Orca Inlet is home to salmon, halibut, gray cod, seals, sea lions, sea otters, whales, and a variety of other marine organisms. On the southwest edge, Orca Inlet converges with the Copper River Delta. This area, known to the community as “the flats,” is home to wild runs of red, king, and silver salmon. These fish feed on smaller marine organisms, which feed on plankton that need stable levels of oxygen to survive. If these plankton are endangered through human or natural disturbances, our entire ecosystem will be affected. Since Cordova residents rely so heavily on the stability of the wild runs, they must ensure that the vast quantities of waste produced by the fishing industry does not come back to haunt them. This paper aims to analyze the effects of cannery waste on our local ecosystem and provide recommendations to seafood companies and citizens alike.

Effect of Cannery Discharge on Ocean Ecosystems

In a recent study done by The Prince William Sound Science Center, the negative affects of seafood waste discharge were examined. It was found that the new regulations for seafood waste recently implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) caused a disruption in the natural food web of Orca Inlet. In 1975, EPA introduced a guideline for fish waste to be ground into pieces no larger than one-half inch. Their reason for this new regulation was to destroy the fish’s swim bladder so the pieces will sink, making this food source available to a wider range of species (Figure #3). In 1978 Cordova’s processors implemented this as a regulation for all canneries and waste outlet facilities. Since the size of the waste being put into the ocean is now much smaller, this allowed smaller animals, such as the glaucous winged gull, to feed on it. An unforeseen affect of this was that it took away a large portion of the larger animals’ food source.

Animals such as the Steller sea lion depended on this waste as a large part of their diet and are now having to turn to alternate sources, thus disrupting the food chain. Steller sea lions used to be abundant around the fish cleaning areas and around the canneries where they feasted on the salmon carcasses. Now that there are no longer full carcasses, only small chunks of fish, the sea lions are rarely seen in these areas. There are theories that elimination of the salmon carcasses may have contributed to the succeeding declines in the sea lion population.

This new regulation also increased the amount of food for the glaucous-winged gulls. Currently huge flocks of these loud birds can be seen swarming the waste outlet sites. This is a nuisance to community members and a public heath hazard. How might we find a better solution to this waste problem that does not disrupt the natural food chain so drastically?


Salmon Sperm LEDs

A recent study conducted by the University of Cincinnati shows that salmon sperm can enhance the brightness of LED lights (Figure #4). Normal LED lights have positive and negative electrons coming together and combining. This combining of energy creates light. The problem with these LEDs is that some electrons move past the others too fast and they aren’t able to combine. By using a film taken from the DNA in salmon sperm, the electrons are slowed down and have a better chance at bonding. By bonding more often, more light is produced. This method of enhancing LED lights cannot only be used with fish sperm, but also with other DNA. Salmon containing sperm are acquired in vast quantities during the end of pink and chum runs in Prince William Sound. The milt of the salmon could be collected, stored, and sold to electronics, lighting and any other kind of company making LED lights. We understand that the waste reduction from this method is relatively small but it is still an interesting and possibly profitable alternative to dumping the waste back into the ocean.

Trident Salmon Oil Plant

EPA regulations limit the amount of annery waste that can be discharged into a single water body based on the cannery’s size. Because of these limitations, the Trident Seafood plant operating in Cordova was forced to load all waste exceeding its limit onto local tender boats like the M/V Mud Bay, which brings the waste out a suitable distance to dump. In 2009, Trident invested $22 million in a Cordova fish oil plant (Figure #5) to solve this problem. It uses a cooker to heat cannery waste that is pumped over from its primary processing plant. Once heated, salmon oil can be easily extracted. The purpose of this plant, other than to generate revenue through expansion in the product line, is to reduce waste so the cannery can continue to take in more fish while staying under the EPA regulations for discharge. With this new asset the facility can take in an addition 400,000 pounds of frozen product per day. In response to praise for the fish oil plant, Cordova Trident plant manager Peter Kuttel told The Cordova Times that “our focus is to continue to expand our product line. No waste is the final solution for this salmon plant, zero discharge into the ocean.”

Salmon Oil Pills

The oil produced by this plant, whether in pills (Figure #6) or concentrated syrup, has many health benefits. The Omega-3 fatty acids found in it have been proven to reduce the chances of certain kinds of cancer, include breast and prostate cancer. The Cancer Epidemiology Journal recently published a study that showed that among 35,000 women taking fish oil supplements regularly, incidences of breast cancer were reduced 32%. Another ingredient in fish oil, eicosapentaenoic acid, was found to lower the risk of depression, and other mental conditions. The America Heart Association even suggests heart disease patients to take one gram of fish oil daily. Regular intake of fish oil has also been proven to help prevent high blood pressure and regulate cholesterol. These health advantages, along with the economic benefits to seafood companies, make salmon oil plants a great way to reduce the waste produced by the fishing industry.

Fish Compost

The benefits of recycling fish waste branch as far as agriculture. It has long been shown that adding fish waste, that is, any part left after cleaning or processing, to a compost pile provides an excellent source of nitrogen to the pile. Although the most common way to do this is to throw the fish waste into your existing pile, Louisiana State University Agricultural Center developed a more efficient way to use the waste. The process they developed allows fish to compost without odor, disease-causing organisms or fly larvae, and is environmentally sound.

The main part of this process is the way in which the pile is constructed. They recommend that if you are going to be adding material daily, you should layer the pile (Figure #7). At the bottom, you should start by using a 6 to 12 inch layer of a “bulking agent” (usually rice hulls) and then a 6 to 8 inch layer of fish cleaning wastes. A 2 to 3 inch layer of another bulking agent (usually wheat) should follow each layer of fish wastes until the bin is full. The compost should be “capped” by a thick (8 to 10 inch) layer of the first bulking agent to prevent odors. The convenient thing about this method of fish waste recycling is that all parts of the fish can be used. When parts of the fish are cooked away or removed using other methods, you can still get rid of the rest by composting.

Salmon Oil for Biofuel

Although you can’t use all of the cannery waste to make biodiesel, you can convert it to fish oil by cooking. Because the regular fish oil is high in acid, it requires another step. Sulfuric acid is added to help reduce the acid levels in the oil. Once this is complete, the fish oil goes through a transesterification process (Figure #8) to become biodiesel. All oil needs to go through this process to become biodiesel. This biodiesel can be used in virtually any diesel engine without modification (Figure #9). Ideally, a cannery would be able fund the project and get a monetary gain by selling the biodiesel to companies involved in the transportation industry.


A European Company named Enerfish does just this. In one of its biodiesel processors, about 4,000 gallons of diesel can be processed in per day. The processor utilizes very little energy but can produce a high quantity of biodiesel. The carbon dioxide emissions from this biodiesel are 78% less than normal diesel and it has a maximum storage time of about six months. Since this diesel has a cloud point of -5 degrees Celsius, it is good to mix the biodiesel with regular diesel. This diesel is also biodegradable. From 81 tons of fish waste, 13 tons of biodiesel can be produced.

Fish Meal

One way to completely eliminate fish waste is to convert it into fishmeal. The first step to processing fishmeal is to cook fish waste. By pressing the substance, a good percentage of the water is removed. The next step requires the fishmeal to be dried. If it dries too much, the product can lose nutrition and if it is under dried, the fishmeal can grow mold. The next step has two parts. The first process involves passing the fishmeal over a 500 degree Celsius heater. The next steam heats the meal. Lastly, the fishmeal is ground into a powder to get rid of any lumps or bone parts. Fishmeal was once used as fertilizer, but the nutritional value of it is too great. Because of this, fishmeal is now used as animal food. Its high nutritional value and low cost make it exceptional for animal food.


Through the implementation of these recommendations, the seafood industry will be able to reduce the quantity of waste discharged in the ocean while profiting from the support of other industries and the expansion of existing product lines. All of these recommendations have the potential to be profitable to the seafood companies practicing them. For this reason, seafood companies have incentive to invest money in recycling salmon waste. A cannery using more than one of these recommendations can bring its discharge to zero and restore the cycle of marine life in the areas affected by cannery waste.


sea gulls eating fish waste

Figure 1. Gulls feed on fish waste.
Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2f/Seagull_trying_to_eat_fish.jpg

the copper river plume in the gulf of alaska

Figure 2. Orca Inlet and the Flats.
Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/51/OrcaInlet.PNG/400px-OrcaInlet.PNG

potential area of fish waste dispersal due to seasonal movements

Figure 3.
Source: Stone, et al. 1981

LED lights

Figure 4. Enhancement of LED lights.
Source: http://www.engadget.com/2008/03/11/salmon-sperm-used-to-intensify-leds-grossify-everyone/

salmon oil plant

Figure 5. Trident salmon oil plant during construction.
Source: Citation 9.

fish oil pills

Figure 6. Omega 3 fatty acid fish oil pills.
Source: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_QT13gMslAA0/TO1s3_GKoLI/AAAAAAAAAY8/6ffaL-f5NLk/s1600/fish-oil-capsules-tsf.jpg

fish composting guidelines

Figure 7. LSU fish composting guidelines.
Source: Carney, et al. 2000

process of producing biodiesel

Figure 8. Biodiesel production process.
Source: http://www.enerfish.eu/uploaded/image/biodiesel-esterification-process.jpg

diagram of all the uses for fish oil and biofuel

Figure 9. Uses for fish oil and biofuel.
Source: http://www.ultimate-biodiesel-guide.com/biodiesel-fuel-uses.html

Works Cited

  1. Carney, W, T. Lawson, G. Breitenbeck, and D. Schellinger. 2000. “Composting, A Disposal Method for Fish Waste.” LSU AGCenter: 1-8.
  2. Hinkamp, D. 1996. A taste for waste. Oregon’s Agricultural Progress, Oregon State University.
  3. Stone, F.E., H.J. Barnett, P.J. Hunter, G.C. Roberts, and R.W. Nelson. 1981. Processing Wastewater From Two Mechanized Salmon Canneries. Marine Fisheries Review.
  4. Thomas, G.L. and M. Bishop. 2008. Alternative seafood waste disposal procedures for Alaskan waters, Prince William Sound Science Center, Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science.
  5. Thorne, R. and M, Bishop. 2009. Impacts of Seafood Waste Discharge in Orca Inlet, 2004–2006. Prince William Sound Science Center.
  6. “Trident’s Cordova Expansion.” Scribd (2009): 1-3. http://www.scribd.com/doc/20734837/Trident-s-Cordova-expansion 6 Jan 2011.

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Waste Not, Want Not

Theoretically all parts of a fish could be sold and used in various ways. However we live in Cordova Alaska, a place where canneries produce hundreds of pounds of fish waste every day. This waste includes mainly the head, tail and bones of the fish, parts that the cannery cannot use. All of this gets pumped into the surrounding waters where it is consumed by various marine life, including Steller sea lions, glaucous winged gulls and halibut.

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