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Valuable trash

A fisherman’s trash is this scientist’s treasure  


By Patti Lewis

A lot of effort and expense goes into harvesting fish.

But on average, only about 30-60 per cent of a fish is sold to consumers and ultimately used. The rest is discarded in landfills or disposed of in the water from which it came.

Dr. Kelly Hawboldt, a researcher with the Ocean Frontier Institute (OFI) and a professor in the Department of Process Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, at Memorial University, doesn’t like waste. Or rather, she doesn’t like to see it wasted.

Dr. Kelly Hawboldt
Dr. Kelly Hawboldt
Photo: Chris Hammond

Dr. Hawboldt believes that by using science, we can extract value from the byproducts or fish residue, creating products that consumers will not only demand, but will pay a premium for. This in turn would generate new jobs and boost the economy.

“The economy and environment demand that we start to look at fish residue differently.” — Dr. Kelly Hawboldt

And because she’s a big proponent of sustainable business practices, her research is engaged in determining how new products made from fish byproducts can also reduce our environmental footprint.

“The economy and environment demand that we start to look at fish residue differently,” said Dr. Hawboldt. “By using 100 per cent of the fish we harvest and by applying creativity and innovation, we can generate significantly more value that will benefit society.”

Repurposing fish

The concept of repurposing fish waste into usable products is catching on.

In the United States, there has been some success in converting fish byproducts into fertilizer and scales into an alternative to rawhide leather. In Iceland, there are broad uses for fish waste, including pet food, cosmetics and bandages.

The focus of Dr. Hawboldt’s research is to find uses for fish waste that can be leveraged locally, in Newfoundland and Labrador, and throughout Atlantic Canada. And that means making sure the product is right for the East Coast marketplace.

Her priority? Understanding the opportunity to convert fish residue into fuels, chemicals and vitamins.

Feasible business model

“It’s not as simple as taking what works well in other jurisdictions and applying it here,” she said.

“We must ensure the business model is feasible and that means we must examine the full life cycle of the product’s development. Can it be produced economically? What is the long-term market demand for the product? What are the environmental and social impacts of new product development? And importantly, can the new product support our goal of a low-carbon economy?”

The Ocean Frontier Institute seeks to make better use of ocean resources and increase ocean sustainability. Dr. Hawboldt’s work is a key example of how research is strengthening our economy — and benefiting the environment.

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