March 1, 2004 | General

Firm Turns Fish Waste Into Fertilizer And Feed

Laura Swanson
BioCycle March 2004, Vol. 45, No. 3, p. 62
The life cycle of the salmon is intricately linked with products of a company called Bio-Oregon based in Warrenton, Oregon at the mouth of the Columbia River. The firm recycles nearly 50 million pounds of fish residuals from coastal processing plants and manufactures feeds for hatchery programs as well as organic fertilizers. These products mimic the salmon’s life. From its aquaculture feeds that nurture fingerlings throughout the Pacific Northwest – to processing marine by-products into all-natural fish fertilizers, Bio-Oregon completes the cycle. Its complicated manufacturing process keeps tons of waste from going to landfills.
The listings of salmon species as threatened and endangered – mandates of the Clean Water Act – have increased the push to reduce pollution that currently enters our waterways. “Our goal is to provide a means of fertilization that will not pollute streams and rivers,” says Bruce Buckmaster, president and co-owner of Bio-Oregon which uses fish to save fish.
The company can trace its history to the early 1900s and the whaling industry. The original owners – the Carruthers family – adapted the firm to the many changes throughout the century in fishing supplies, regulation and product availability, formulating ways to reclaim and reuse fish by-products into animal feed flavors, fish feeds and fertilizer. Formerly know as Bioproducts, the company began developing fish fertilizer in the early 1940s after some employees used fish parts successfully on gardens. The firm was purchased by an Ohio-based company, Nutrius – an animal by-products processor – in the mid-1980s which adopted the Bioproducts’ name. In 1998, Buckmaster and Russ Farmer, senior managers for Nutrius/Bioproducts, purchased that enterprise and changed the name to Bio-Oregon. Manufacturing fish feed for state and federal fish hatcheries represents 80 percent of Bio-Oregon’s business, and the company is exploring other products to assist the hatcheries’ missions.
Bio-Oregon’s manufacturing process is an arduous one using modern techniques of hydrolysis, pasteurization, grinding, mixing and extrusion. The final stage is where the mixture is formed into a pellet. All products are made from fresh, unspoiled fish by-products, processed immediately to reduce odor. Bio-Oregon is a supplier to many markets of environmentally safe nutrients in many forms – liquid, meals, powders and pellets.
“We break down all the fish waste into the basic components – proteins, solids, oils, liquids, bone – and utilize all the parts,” adds Walter Kost, customer service representative. “We’ve been testing a stream fertilization, or carcass cube.” The idea for the carcass cubes, which look like spent barbecue briquets, comes from the work to restore native fish runs. Fewer fish returning means little or no marine nutrients being absorbed back into the environment. After hatchery fish return to the hatchery, and the fish eggs and sperm are recaptured, the fish carcasses are sent to several places: first to local area food banks for distribution fresh to the needy, and then frozen for other uses. Several years ago, hatchery workers and volunteers began small efforts to return the fish carcasses to the watershed as studies have shown that the fish carcasses provide a valuable link in the ecosystem as food for many species and then the marine nutrients from the decaying carcasses. These efforts involved carrying the frozen carcasses into the headwaters of the watershed, most accessible only by foot. This led to Bio-Oregon’s development of the carcass cubes that would be much easier to transport, and still provide the same valuable nutrients to the watershed.


In 2003, Bio-Oregon had total sales of 14 million pounds of products — 66% (9.2 million pounds) fish feeds; 20% (2.8 million pounds) fertilizers; 5% (700,000 pounds) fish meal; 3% (450,000 pounds) bone; 4.7% (660,000 pounds) oil; and 1% (160,000 pounds) crab shell. There are emerging markets and a variety of applications for the company’s recycled fish waste components, such as for animal feeds. “The fish meal has received high marks in tests with baby pigs,” says Kost. “We manufactured a test run of organic, fish-based dog treats for Grizzly Pet Products a couple months ago, and recently received a much larger order for 12,000 pounds.” With the recent discovery of BSE in Washington state, there have been well-publicized concerns about the safety of widely used bone meal products. Bio-Oregon’s fish-based bone meal has generated interest from fertilizing industry leaders. In addition to packaging its own fertilizer products, the company supplies components and complete fertilizer products to several companies, including Down-to-Earth Distributors in Eugene, Oregon.

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