Episode 71 Transcript: NET YOUR PROBLEM
CLARICE: Hello, everybody. Welcome to this week’s episode of Environmentally Speaking.
MARISA: Hi, everybody. I’m Marisa Desautel, an environmental attorney in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
CLARICE: And I’m Clarice. I’m coming in with questions, comments, topics. And an update for all of you listeners, no, still don’t like birds. I am jointed today by special guest Caitlin Townsend from the Net Your Problems project. We are very excited to have her on today. .
MARISA: Hi, Caitlin.
CLARICE: Thank you for joining us.
CAITLIN: Hi, everyone.
MARISA: Hey, Caitlin, I stalked you a little bit online which is a good thing because if I was stalking you in person this would be a lot weirder. I saw an article about you, I believe, in the Newport Daily News and I reached out to Clarice and said, we have to talk to this woman. She seems like such a badass. I’m so interested in what she’s doing. So I’m really excited to talk about that. But so our listeners have a little bit of information about who you are personally before we dive into your business, what can you share with us about who you are and what your background is?
CAITLIN: Okay. Well, yeah. So my name is Caitlin. I live on Cape Cod. I work for a company called Net Your Problem. It was started by my boss Nicole who is the owner of the business in Alaska in 2015, but I started working for the company just in November so not too long ago, so it’s a new thing for Massachusetts. I recycle end-of-life fishing gear. So I take fishing gear from fishermen, from net manufacturers, different people, and we recycle it. We try to reuse as much as possible. We try to give it to artists and we also will chemically and mechanically recycle this gear and give it a new life, so that’s my job with Net Your Problem.
I’m also a big environmentalist. I spent a lot of time during COVID walking the beaches on Cape Cod. I’m really inspired by Henry David Thoreau and my dog is actually named Henrietta after Henry David Thoreau. So I walked his beaches — or our beaches and wrote about the difference between what he saw in the 1800s and what I see today and that journey led me to the marine debris industry. I ended up getting a job with the Center for Coastal Studies as an intern for a year working in their marine debris program and that got me started on this whole marine debris fishing gear thing.
But, actually, before that I grew up as a commercial fisherman. My dad is a commercial lobsterman out of Provincetown, so from the second I was a little kid to today I still fish with my dad and it’s my biggest passion in life is advocating for fisherman and just really understanding the ocean through their eyes because just as much as you and I want to protect the ocean it’s their livelihood and they would do anything to continue spending every single day on the water. So those are kind of like the parts about me that I like everyone to know. But, yeah, my job with Net Your Problem is really exciting and I can’t wait to see what we can do in the next coming years, but we’ve already done a lot in the last few months here in Massachusetts.
[0:03:40] MARISA: Okay. So like the best intro I think I’ve ever heard —
MARISA: — on any platform or venue. Again, a very sweet reminder of how much of a loser I am. You’re doing so much for the environment and I’m hosting a podcast, so.
CAITLIN: No. You’re a lawyer. I could never do what you do.
MARISA: Listen, no. We’re not going there. It’s a very impressive series of self-driven facts that have gotten you to where you are today. A couple of follow-up questions about what you said just very quickly. Are you from Provincetown originally?.
CAITLIN: I’m from Truro.
MARISA: Okay. So born and raised on that part of the Cape?
CAITLIN: Yeah. Born and raised in Truro. My dad was, as I said, a fisherman and my mom was an artist — or is still an artist so very like quintessential Cape Cod, fishing and art.
MARISA: Oh, yeah.
CAITLIN: And, yeah, we grew up in Truro, my sister and I. And my dad fished out of Provincetown. He actually also owned a fish market and restaurant in Provincetown when I was a kid until like the mid 2010s. I can’t remember exactly what year. Yeah. So Truro is my home and Cape Cod itself, I guess, is my home. I love all parts of the Cape, but high heart is really in Truro.
MARISA: Where did you go to school?
CAITLIN: I went to high school at Nauset which is a regional school on the Cape which actually ties in a lot of environmental issues into their students there, so I feel like that kind of sparked a lot of interest.
CAITLIN: And then I went to college at Mass Maritime, actually.
MARISA: No kidding.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I went to Mass Maritime thinking like, oh, you know what, I want to be on the water. I, at the time, was fishing with my dad full-time as his deckhand in the summertime and I was like, I just want to do something that’s on the water. I don’t really know what, but this would lead me there. And I got a really good financial package so couldn’t really say no to that. And, yeah, so I went to Mass Maritime and thought I was going to work on ships. I wanted to be like a — my degree is in marine science safety and environmental protection and I have a concentration in shipboard health and safety, so I wanted to work on like cruise ships or oil rigs as a safety and environmental officer so like dealing with all of their trash, dealing with their like, you know, black water, gray water.
MARISA: Ballast water.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Safety protocols onboard. And then COVID happened while I was still in college and I graduated in 2021. And I moved back to the Cape full-time, you know, like wasn’t living in Bourne for school and fell in love with the Cape all over again kind of like in my roots and fishermen or fishing and my dad as a fisherman and realized that actually I don’t want to spend, you know, eight to ten months of my life away from my home. I want to be on the Cape and in Massachusetts and so that led me to the very long journey to Net Your Problem, but I’m stoked to have it as a job because if you would ask me — if you had told me that this was a job I can have when I was a little kid I would have said it was my dream job, so it’s pretty cool. Yeah. You know, I didn’t know this was a thing, but now I do, so.
[0:07:23] MARISA: What are you going to do with the rest of your life? I mean, this is it.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I think that this is it. Like I think that I could live forever and be happy with this job with Net Your Problem. Nicole the owner is just an absolutely amazing person and I’m so, so lucky to have her as my boss. She is really inspiring to me and just like works harder than anyone I know. And she did not grow up as a commercial fisherman. So she grew up in upstate New York and started Net Your Problem because she was a fisheries observer in Alaska and saw a need for recycling or reuse of end-of-life fishing gear.
CLARICE: So we’ve mentioned Net Your Problem a couple of times, but let’s take it back a step. Let’s tell the listeners what is Net Your Problem. You had mentioned the — I think you gave kind of a brief description of the recycling aspect of it, but start as the beginning. What is it?
CAITLIN: So it’s essentially a company. We’re a business that recycles end-of-life fishing gear. So we collect net, rope, line, gill net, kind of really anything you can think of in the fishing industry and take it to our warehouses. You know, in Massachusetts I’m taking it to my warehouse in New Bedford, or I’m mostly actually collecting it from there. People are bringing it to me in New Bedford. I have a 5,000-square foot warehouse where it’s all stored where then I sort through it and sort it out into the different types of plastic. And what can be recycled is recycled, mostly shipped off to Europe and recycled there into the little tiny plastic beads that can be then used in injection molding, so that’s mechanically recycled. And then whatever can’t be mechanically recycled so like mixed plastics, really dirty rope, stuff like that and even some of the net is reused into our — a lot of it goes to artists.
We follow a waste hierarchy that like number one is obviously reduce the amount of waste from the fishing industry, but number two would be to reuse and repurpose and number three would be to recycle. So those are kind of the three things that we focus on as a business and that’s almost exactly what happens. So when I’m at my warehouse in New Bedford, I’m collecting gear from fisherman. I’m sorting out different plastics, so I’m like cutting off edges of nets that are mixed plastic, or I’m coiling rope into like bins. I’m weighing the gear that I’m collecting. I’m just working on outreach. So those are kind of all the things that I do in my like day-to-day life as an employee for Net Your Problem. And then we’ll also like kind of do like strike missions where like in June we’ll be in Naknek, Alaska for the month and we’ll be collecting end-of-life gear from fisherman in Alaska and recycling it there as a whole business. You know, like all of the — there’s four girls that work for the company. All four of us will be up in Alaska doing this together, so, yeah.
[0:10:49] MARISA: Where are the four of you all located? Are you all around the country?
CAITLIN: Yeah. So I’m in Massachusetts. We have Briny. She’s up in Maine. And then we have Nicole. She lives in Seattle and does a lot up in Alaska, so Nicole does a lot of traveling. And then we have Sarah and she is in Southern California so kind of covering like all of the portions. And, actually, Nicole and Sarah are in the Florida Keys this week hosting workshops for fisherman down in the Florida Keys to try and, you know, teach them how to recycle their gear and kind of get something up and going down there.
MARISA: So who makes the determination about when fishing gear has reached the end of its life as you have indicated?
CAITLIN: The fishermen. Well, actually, I would say the fishermen, but then there are also like regulations. I mean, you could have — especially I have some net in my warehouse that — we work with a lot of net manufacturers and one that I work with is Reidar’s and they’re in New Bedford. They build pretty much everyone’s nets and everyone’s scallop dredges and I got from them — it’s pretty cool — some like net that has never been used. It was meant to be used in building a net, but it’s just like this bundled one-color net that he had gotten and then it had went out of regulation.
CAITLIN: Yeah. He had that and was like, you know, going to use it to build a net and then couldn’t, so then he’s left with this product that is useless, so it came to me. So I would say there’s two — yeah. But the majority of what I’m getting is just like the fisherman is done with it. It’s reached its end of its life. You know, the rope’s really chafed. It’s gotten weaker over time. You know, it’s been passed down from like grandfather to father to son to friend to whatever and it’s done. And being a commercial — having the background that I have I can see that. You could look at it and you’re like, I wouldn’t want to fish with that, so.
MARISA: And are you or is the company going out and doing any collecting of product that might just be floating in the ocean or washing up on shore?
CAITLIN: So we do not do like ocean cleanup or beach cleanups. I mean, we’ve hosted a few as a company, but you actually can’t recycle that material the way that we do because it’s so fouled. It’s so dirty. It has sand. It has like seaweed on it. I mean, you could repurpose it into art and that’s what a lot of people do with marine debris, but we can’t recycle it unless it’s extremely sorted and clean.
[0:13:55] MARISA: Okay.
CAITLIN: So, yeah, that’s the one difference that is out there between like organizations that do ocean cleanups and us is that we’re like near shore. We’re going to do — we’re just collecting it before it hits the ocean.
CLARICE: There’s that preventative aspect which is really nice, too. It’s before somebody decides, I can’t keep this, or I don’t know what to do with this. And in the South Coast Today article, there’s a mention about people dealing with storage fees for stuff that they couldn’t necessarily use, so I’m sure you’re taking that off their hands which is nice.
CAITLIN: Right. I mean, even if you just drive around New Bedford you look around and you see nets and you see pots and you see stuff stored everywhere. Like, I mean, my dad is lucky enough where he has enough property to store had of his gear on our property, but before that he pays, you know, rent on a piece of land that he stored all his gear on and so it’s the same for a lot of fishermen in the industry. Especially like the bigger fishing companies that own like ten, 15 boats, they pay a lot of money for those yards to just store end-of-life gear. And the other thing about it that’s interesting is it’s kind of like a mindset switch because up until programs like Net Your Problem or even the Fishing for Energy bins that the National Wildlife foundation put out — I think it’s the national — I might be completely wrong. There wasn’t another option besides the landfill or to dump it overboard. It’s also being like, hey, I’m here. I want your old gear. Please bring it to me. And making that well known is also a part of what we do.
CLARICE: Yeah. How has the response been? How has been putting out the word and getting fishermen on board? Has it been an easy process? What’s that like?
CAITLIN: At first, you know, when Nicole started in Alaska it was just a lot of like, hi, I have this idea. You know, and she’s very convincing and got people on board and it’s not been very difficult. I mean, you have a conversation with a fisherman. You buy them a beer and you’re like, this is what I do. And they’re like 99 percent of the time so stoked. I mean, it solves a problem that they have. We all have [inaudible].
MARISA: And there’s fear involved.
CAITLIN: Yeah. And there’s fear involved, yeah. So that’s the thing. Like right now it’s a little bit difficult with fishing with outreach with the fishermen just because it’s February. There’s not people down working on the boats on the docks like but once it gets nicer out I’ll go walk the docks and be like, hey, I’m Caitlin. I recycle end-of-life gear. And that’s kind of just how we have spread the word, a lot of dock walking, a lot of beer and it’s worked.
[0:16:49] CLARICE: Oh, that sounds terrible.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Yeah.
MARISA: So, Caitlin, it sounds like you do quite a bit of work with and communicating with the fishing industry folks in Massachusetts. My office does a lot of work with fishermen in Rhode Island. I’m just wondering if you’re having the same experience that Rhode Island fishermen in the industry are having with respect to offshore winds projects and the potential future impact and clashing between the offshore wind industry and the fishing industry. Are you hearing anything about these projects in Massachusetts from your contacts?
CAITLIN: I kind of personally stay out of it. Like I haven’t made up my mind about the whole thing personally. I could go either way. I can understand all sides of it being like someone who studied environmental science and understanding other forms of energy, but also coming from a fisherman I can — you know, fishing family I can get it. I have not really made up my mind about that. You know, I hear things. I see things on social media, but it has not been a topic that I’ve discussed with any of the fisherman that we use because I know it is a topic that’s like lightly treaded on and people have very strong opinions either way.
CAITLIN: Yeah. It’s not something we or I have really experienced.
MARISA: Is it fair to say then that you’re not anticipating an impact cue the Net Your Problem initiative as a result of offshore wind?
MARISA: You’re not worried about it, kind of thing?
CAITLIN: No. Not from Net Your Problem’s standpoint, no.
CLARICE: And I know you talked a little bit about connecting with the artists or shipping some of the things that can be recycled to Europe. What is that process like? How did you find the artists who are interested in this, or how did you find the company or organization in Europe? How did all of that start and where does it go?
CAITLIN: Well, I actually don’t know how Nicole started connecting in Europe. She did tell me the other day she looked up the shipping cost from Boston to Portugal and they weren’t bad, so that was something that — I think just because Europe is ahead of us in recycling technology that it just was kind of the next best step. I’m sure I’ve never Googled it, but I bet if you Googled like plastics recyclers it would bring you to a lot of things in Europe and I’m sure that’s part of how Nicole connected with Europe.
But from the artist standpoint, I really find them coming to me because I think there is a lot of marine debris artists out there that just are constantly looking for material and material that isn’t going to cost them an arm and a leg. So we do charge a price. We are a business. We have to charge a price for artists to use our stuff. It’s a very minimum price but it’s by weight. But that’s mostly how we’ve connected with artists.
We have a bunch up in the Pacific Northwest that use crab line to weave different things. In Maine we have a whole rope depot that’s full of rope and artists go there all the time to get stuff for art projects. Just the other day I had an artist come and meet me at my warehouse and he was really interested in a lot of stuff I had, so I find that they just kind of find you because they’re so desperate for this material. Not desperate but they really want to use this material and you have it, so it’s been an easy connection.
I really enjoy how people find inspiration in something that I have seen my whole life because not until having this job and until I worked at the Center for Coastal Studies in their marine debris program did I realize that people really took inspiration from fishing gear and from trash that is collected from the beach. So it’s a cool thing for me because I would have never thought that art could have been made out of this, but some of the stuff you see is just so beautiful.
[0:21:28] CLARICE: It’s awesome. And does your mom get first dibs being an artist?
CAITLIN: She does more like graphic design and painting and stuff, so she doesn’t do like sculptural art, but I wish she did because that would be really cool. But I think she loves looking at it all and she’s very intrigued in the whole entire thing, so I think she might find a little inspiration in what I do, but she doesn’t use it, unfortunately.
CLARICE: Oh, that’s all right. This is a call to action to Caitlin’s mom.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Mom, if you’re out there maybe you should start making sculptures.
CLARICE: And you had mentioned the rope warehouse up in Maine. I think there’s also — and I could be wrong, but there’s also a rope swap project with the Lobstermen Association.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Yes.
CLARICE: Tell me about that.
CAITLIN: So we partnered with Mass Lobstermen’s Association in Massachusetts to do rope swaps. So we got funding to be able to buy new rope and exchange. So fishermen can bring me — lobstermen can bring me their rope. I weigh it. We’ll give them a voucher and then when our rope order comes in they’re able to exchange it for new coils of rope to build lines out of. So, yeah, it’s a great — or Mass Lobstermen’s is really amazing. They do a lot of advocating for fishermen and I love that, so it’s exciting for me to work with them because my dad’s been a member of Mass Lobstermen since I was a little kid and we’ve always got the — they make like a booklet every month or a newsletter that comes out. We get it in the mail, so it’s kind of a cool thing to grow up and be like, oh, now I get to work with them. But, yeah, we’re doing that rope swap with them which is really exciting and that will keep going on into the spring.
CLARICE: Nice. And I think Marisa had mentioned earlier that she’s over in Rhode Island and we do a lot of work with fishermen in Rhode Island. Is Net Your Problem — is there any sort of Rhode Island expansion, or just because you’re located in Mass can fishermen from Rhode Island also reach out to you?
CAITLIN: Yeah. I actually just talked to a fisherman from Rhode Island like two days ago, so definitely welcome to reach out and we can talk about what they have. I’m unfamiliar with any fishing ports in Rhode Island, but I’m going to go see what this guy that called me the other day has, so I’ll get to kind of explore the area which is cool. But, yeah, Rhode Island fishermen are welcome to reach out to me.
MARISA: And how do people get in touch with you?
CAITLIN: Mostly by e-mail or just calling my cell phone. I don’t know if I should say that out loud, or.
MARISA: It’s totally up to you.
CLARICE: Your number, you get to decide.
CAITLIN: My e-mail is Caitlin — C-a-i-t-l-i-n — at Net Your Problem dot com. And my cell phone is 774-316-0417. Yeah.
[0:24:39] CLARICE: We’ll make sure to put that in the show notes in case there’s anybody with nets that they want Caitlin to look at.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Perfect. Awesome. Yeah. I actually enjoy the random phone calls I get from fishermen. They’re like, is this Caitlin. I’m like, yeah, how’s it going. And they’re like, um, I have some nets I think you might want. And it’s always like kind of a funny conversation, but then it ends up turning into like a really long conversation and you’re on the phone for like 45 minutes talking about it, so I’ve met some cool people through this job. It’s exciting.
MARISA: Oh, good for you. I’m like so happy to hear about all of the good work that you’re doing and that the company is doing. It really warms my heart.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Thank you.
MARISA: It’s important.
CAITLIN: Yeah. It is important. It is something that’s so like near and dear to my heart and, you know, seeing the struggle that my dad has gone through in the last like five years or so. In Cape Cod Bay or lobster fishery has declined a lot in Cape Cod Bay. You know, I think back to when I was 15 and we would go out and catch 1,000 pounds, 2,000 pounds and now you bring in 100 pounds, so it’s definitely something that I’ve been like, okay, how can I support fishermen in another way that’s not just like making lobsters reappear because if I could do that I would, but I can’t, so this is another way. But we’re taking steps as a business to expand — or my dad’s business to expand and we just bought a federal permit, so we’ll be fishing offshore a little bit next year which is really exciting. And him and I have always had kind of like a pipe dream to have a father-daughter business where I really want to grow kelp. Yeah. That’s like my personal dream is to have a kelp farm.
CAITLIN: Yeah. So him and I have always talked about doing that. Yeah. Yeah.
CLARICE: Very cool.
MARISA: Good for you. Caitlin, you’ll have to get back in touch with us if that ever becomes a reality. I would love to hear about how you get that going.
MARISA: I have a feeling that might happen.
CAITLIN: I hope so. It’s been a dream for like three years now. It’s huge up in Maine. Kelp farming is becoming big in Maine and it just hasn’t quite hit Massachusetts yet. But there are a lot of rules around, you know, our — like in Cape Cod Bay you can’t have vertical lines part of the year because of the right whales and so there’s all these different regulations, so it’s going to be a little bit harder to start in Massachusetts, but it’s taking off. And I think, yeah, that’s my little dream. In an ultimate world I would be kelp farming and working for Net Your Problem, so some day that will happen.
CLARICE: I love it. Hopefully someday soon because I want to go see a kelp farm.
[0:27:42] CAITLIN: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. They’re awesome.
MARISA: So we’re at about our half hour mark here. That’s usually where we cut things off.
MARISA: But certainly if you have anything else that you want to mention briefly before we wrap it up here, now is your chance.
CAITLIN: No. I’d just say bring me your nets. Bring me your rope. Let any fisherman in your life know. And I’m here to talk and look at your old gear.
CLARICE: Caitlin may or may not have promised beer, as well, so.
CAITLIN: Yeah. And a beer.
CLARICE: We’ll see.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Maybe.
CLARICE: Thank you so much, Caitlin. I loved having you on. I loved learning a little bit more about this and getting the chance to tell our listeners about it, so we appreciate you taking some time to chat with us.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I feel honored. This is the first podcast I’ve ever done and I’m very excited about it, so.
MARISA: It’s only upwards from here, you know what I mean.
CAITLIN: Thank you. But I’m honored to say that you guys were my first podcast.
CLARICE: Yes. I love it. All right, folks. Well, if you have any questions, comments, topics — have you been to a kelp farm? Do you have nets that you need to connect us to? Reach out to us at Help@DesautelESQ.com. You can hit us up on the socials. We are on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter at Desautel Law. If you want to see all of our faces, most especially Caitlin our wonderful guest, you can see us on YouTube. Have a good one, everybody.
MARISA: Thank you.