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Turning Waste Into Wallets, One Salmon Skin at a Time

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Unless you live under a rock, you know food waste is a big global problem. We throw out about 40 percent of what we grow or harvest in the U.S. France is now requiring supermarkets to donate unsold food to charity, dumpster diving has become a sport, and American chef Dan Barber is showing us what top chefs can do with food waste with his project, WastED.

But one area has been largely left out of the popular movement: the oceans.

When fishing boats go out on the ocean, they don’t come back with the pristine little fillets we buy at the grocery store. There are heads, tails, spines, scales, skin, and other nasty bits that must be removed. Usually that waste—some two billion pounds just in Alaska—goes right back in the water.

But Craig Kasberg and Zach Wilkinson think they can do better. They started a company to turn seafood waste into salmon leather and eventually plan to spin crab shell fiber into high-tech, antimicrobial clothing.

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Photograph courtesy Tidal Vision

Kasberg is the captain of a commercial salmon boat in Alaska. He knows from fish waste. So he and his colleague Zach Wilkinson founded Tidal Vision, a startup company that wants to take the waste from sustainable fisheries and make it into something beautiful, and frankly, worth showing off.

“We’re focused on making high-value products from the industry­—what normally gets thrown away,” Wilkinson tells The Plate. And the wallet and phone holder designs shown online in their video are sleek and trendy, as well as practical. The suggested retail price is $59.

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Photograph courtesy Tidal Vision

“I wanted to created visible products so consumers can show their support for sustainable fishing practices, with the hope to bring more awareness to ocean sustainability issues,” says Kasberg.

That sounds great and all, but I ask the question on everyone’s mind: Is my purse going to smell like fish?

“No,” says Kasberg. “We remove all the natural oils and replace them with tanning oils and protective oils and press in a resin. It smells very similar to vegetable or cow leather,” he says.

(As proof, they sent us a forest-green dyed scrap of salmon leather, which, does in fact, smell like regular leather and has a beautiful pattern where the scales once were.)

Tidal Vision has a tannery in Washington state that is beginning to make wallets and other accessories, in addition to making sheets of uncut salmon leather for the DIYers and designers.

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Photograph courtesy Tidal Vision

Kasberg says he’s had interest in the product from people who make guitar cases, upholstery companies, and footwear companies.

While some other companies are making salmon leather, and there is a small market for it already in Iceland and Europe, Tidal Visions’ goal is to make it bigger, he says. “It hasn’t really caught on in North America yet, because people aren’t familiar with it,” he says.

Also, the company works with only certified sustainable fisheries and has replaced the formaldehyde and other chemicals in the tanning process with food-grade products.

The company just launched on Kickstarter Wednesday. It has no plans to apply for TV’s Shark Tank yet, though. “Maybe next year,” Kasberg jokes.