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Women at Work: Net Your Problem

L to R Nicole, Ashley, Erin and Sara.
Nicole Baker, Owner

What does a day in your work life look like?

Nicole Baker, Owner (Washington): My favorite day of the week is Friday. This is my designated day in the field, away from the computer. This could be meeting with fishermen on the docks, in my warehouse accepting nets and ropes from someone, at a plastics manufacturing facility, or visiting a facility that makes nets to see how we can take them apart efficiently so they can be recycled.

Ashley Zullo, US Northeast Division Coordinator (Massachusetts): By day, I’m a microbiologist who discovers new antibiotics from soil bacteria. By night, I work on recycling fishing nets with Net Your Problem. We’re expanding our recycling services to Massachusetts and Connecticut, so I’m setting up a warehouse so we can start collecting fishing nets to service the surrounding fishing communities. These nets will be collected, prepared, and sent off to recyclers. They will then melt down the plastic to make pellets to be used in new products.

Erin Adams, Northeast Division Coordinator (Maine): Thankfully every day is different. Some are spent in front of the computer but there are 1–2 days a week where I get to go out on a boat or spend the day at the rope depot sorting fishing gear. I typically hit the road once a month to collect fishing gear, and conduct outreach on our programming.

Sara Aubery, Business Program Development

Sara Aubery, Business Program Development/Fishing Gear Recycling (California): One of the things I love about a pioneering industry like fishing gear recycling is feeling like I’m an explorer. I like going to new places and building connections to make something possible that seemed like it could never work out… It fills my heart with so much joy and motivates me to push through all the challenges we face.

What made you start doing the amazing things that you do?

NB: I used to work on commercial fishing boats in Alaska, and noticed piles of nets all around me that obviously were not being used. (They had trees and moss growing on and through them!) Once I discovered they were made of plastic and became aware of a company in Europe set up specifically to recycle them, it was game on. Net Your Problem was born.

SA: I’ve always preferred actions over words. I had been working in marine conservation for a while, mostly gathering information and making plans. I had a surf and yoga hostel in Puerto Rico—it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I lost it due to beach erosion after a hurricane. I had to run home to Mom and Dad, and reinvent myself. There was this new legislation that passed in California, phasing out one type of swordfish gear for another. Nicole had started Net Your Problem, and was crushing it in Alaska, and she asked me to head the project in San Diego. The nets were enormous! Some were a mile long! We collected them from fishermen and had to separate out all the different parts so we could send them for recycling. Now they are bikinis or sunglasses or phone cases. It felt good to be a part of something that takes care of people and the environment simultaneously. It’s always bugged me when ideologies separated humans from nature. It was amazing to see results so quickly when I got the opportunity to start supporting this project in California.

Ashley Zullo, US Northeast Division Coordinator

AZ: I’m passionate about climate change, and do a lot of things in my own life to try and reduce my footprint. By working with Net Your Problem, I have the ability to make an even bigger positive impact on the planet, compared to what I can do in my day-to-day life. To date, Net Your Problem has recycled over 1 million pounds of fishing nets—and we’re just getting started! This is what motivates me to do this work. Fishing nets are just the beginning. There are so many other plastic materials we can recycle.

Did you complete any training?

NB: I participated in two business accelerator programs, sort of like mini MBAs, but most of my skills and knowledge about the fishing industry came from working in it. The plastics stuff I am learning as we go and loving every minute of it. Virtual conferences, webinars and meetings help with this—but as we are blazing a pretty new trail here in the US, we have to figure out a lot of this ourselves.

EA: No formal training but I’ve spent most of my career working on fishing boats and sailboats. When it comes to recycling, I've learned most everything from Nicole. Nicole is endlessly patient and the true expert when it comes to fishing gear recycling in the United States.

SA: The training was mostly hands on and experiential—my favorite kind.

What did you want to be when you were growing up, or a little kid?

NB: I wanted to be a dolphin trainer when I was little. That’s what led me to get scuba certified at 13, and go to college for marine biology.

AZ: Growing up on Cape Cod, I also wanted to be a marine biologist. That’s what I received my undergraduate degree in, which is where I met Nicole (NYP Founder). After graduating, I worked at a non-profit, Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance, but realized my calling was working with bacteria. I have been discovering antibiotics that are produced from soil bacteria at NovoBiotic Pharmaceuticals for the past 13 years. Now adding on Net Your Problem as a weeknight/weekend gig, I feel like it's come full circle. I can reconnect with fishermen I worked with before, meet new fishermen, and help divert waste from landfills.

EA: I wanted to work as a researcher at the Center of Disease Control. The book Outbreak was influential!

SA: An astronaut! Which I feel like I accomplished because whenever I go scuba diving I definitely feel like I'm on another planet.

Tell us something dirty.

NB: Handling old nets gets us dirty all the time, but it’s mostly just mud. There are no stinky fish heads or guts in the old nets :)

EA: I've spent my fair share of time covered in fish slime.

SA: You want me to talk trash? The best days are when we get to be dirty and talk trash. We have this dirty fingernail club, and proudly pass around photos of us getting in it.

Erin Adams, Northeast Division Coordinator

What do you have to sacrifice to be good at what you do?

NB: I'm building the company now, while still working as a research scientist, so nights and weekends are spent mostly doing Net Your Problem work.

EA: Currently, money. I feel like I'm investing in a future where I will make more, but money hasn't driven me in my career thus far. I'm recognizing that I need to make sure I'm taking care of myself in the next couple decades so that I can continue to do what I value and love, but also ensure my old lady self can continue to live a life of joy and ease.

SA: I’m super blessed to work doing something I love, in a job that gives me all types of opportunities to connect with other people and create new things. I don't feel like I'm sacrificing anything.

What scares you?

NB: Quitting my full-time job and making the leap to doing Net Your Problem full time terrifies me, but I’m hoping that time comes soon!

SA: Centipedes. I was camping once and witnessed a friend chop one in half. Both halves ran away and that was it for me. No thank you! Actually my biggest fear is that I don’t live up to my potential—I don’t accomplish what I came here to do. And now I have some badass gear to make sure I look good doing it!

Trina the Sexy Spectrometer Gun

What's one item that's always in your pocket?

NB: Victorinox knife

EA: fid (for splicing rope)

SA: spectrometer gun that analyzes the type of materials we are working with. (Her name is Trina and she’s super sexy.)

Are there any organizations/nonprofits you work with that you think we should know about?

AZ: The Copper River Watershed projects helps us collect nets in Cordova, Alaska, and the Haines Friends of Recycling help us collect nets in Haines, Alaska.

Follow Net Your Problem on Instagram.

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