Fish compost project heating up for winter

Sep 23, 2015

Community members gathered to learn about the (perhaps surprisingly) non-odorous fish waste compost project from MAP agent Gabe Dunham.

A handful of people came out on a sunny Friday noon to learn at the fish waste compost site (the first left on Landfill Road).
Credit Hannah Colton/KDLG

The Nushagak Fish Waste Compost project has been accepting bones, guts and freezer-burned fish since this summer. Last week there was a demonstration at the compost site on Landfill Road.

As KDLG’s Hannah Colton reports, the fish are covered up, fenced in and ready for winter…

Audio transcript:

A handful of people gathered at the Nushagak fish waste compost site. Most were clad in muck boots in the muddy enclosure, but I noticed no one was holding their nose.

Gabe Dunham, the Marine Advisory Program agent spearheading the fish compost project, said this – keeping the fishy smell to a minimum – is one of the big goals of the project.   

Dunham covers the compost pile to keep the heat in and the moisture out.
Credit Hannah Colton/KDLG

"And we do that by covering all the compost piles in a fresh layer of topsoil. And in addition we use what's called Compost Tex, which is a fleece-like material that goes on top," explained Dunham. "That not only helps to hold the heat in, but it helps keep the rain from getting the compost pile too wet. And if it weren’t for the fact that I spilled a little fish guts --- but that's just another thing I'll have to clean up before I go home."

Sticking out of each fleece-covered mound is a huge thermometer, which Dunham explains he’ll use to make sure the heaps of waste and organic material are heating up enough to kill any harmful bacteria. The aim is to produce rich fertilizer that’s safe for people to use on their gardens.

Hillary Strayer and Jared Moore were among the group gathered to learn about the composting process.

"I'm used to organic material in composting to be more plants," said Strayer. "I had never thought of using fish, so that really surprised me, that something like this can happen."

"It's interesting, I didn't think it got up to 100, 120, 140 degrees when the stuff is starting to break down," said Moore. "And it was interesting to see the electric fence setup... [Dunham] has really got everything figured out."

Dunham will monitor the composting action using thermometers; if temperatures get too high, the piles will be uncovered and turned with the tractor.
Credit Hannah Colton/KDLG

With a couple big piles of fish in the ground, Dunham says he’s done collecting fish waste for the season. For now, there’s not much more to do besides watch for bears and wait until everything’s done cooking in the spring.  

Contact the author at hannah@kdlg.org.