Turning Michigan fish waste into fertilizer creates a commercial product

Several million pounds of commercial fish waste are generated in Michigan each year.

Fish waste is placed in bins before being turned into liquid fish fertilizer. Fritz Dramm | Dramm Corporation

Fish waste is placed in bins before being turned into liquid fish fertilizer. Fritz Dramm | Dramm Corporation

The disposal or reuse of fish processing waste has long been a challenge for Michigan’s fish processing industry. Several million pounds of waste from commercially processed lake whitefish, lake trout, and salmon are generated annually. In an effort to help the Michigan fish processing industry find better solutions to handle fish processing waste materials Michigan Sea Grant was involved with a project to determine the viability of composting fish waste. A summary of this project can be found in the report Composting Commercial Fish Processing Waste from Fish Caught in the Michigan Waters of the Great Lakes.

Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University Extension recently held an educational session at the Michigan Fish Producers Association annual conference. At the conference there was a presentation on “Drammatic Liquid Fish Fertilizer: Taking Offal One More Step” by Fritz Dramm of Dramm Corporation of Manitowoc, Wis. Dramm Corporation provides another alternative to Michigan fish processors by picking up their fish waste and converting it into a liquid fish fertilizer which is more economical than landfilling this waste product.

For centuries, fish has been recognized as an excellent fertilizer source. For this reason Dramm Corporation developed multiple all natural liquid fish formulas for organic and conventional crop production. They make fertilizers from fresh fish carefully processed at low temperatures to maintain the integrity of naturally occurring amino acids, vitamins, hormones and enzymes. The raw material is then stored in digestion tanks to liquefy the product. The final product contains the natural oils and proteins of fish, which break down slowly to become available over a longer period of time.

Dramm Corporation collects fish offal from many different sources, including commercial and sport fishing sources, and fresh fish wholesalers. Suppliers use totes or barrels to store fish offal and refrigeration is necessary to maintain freshness. Dramm Corporation covers the cost of totes/barrels and transportation.

Freshness of the fish offal is critical to a good fertilizer product, so refrigeration, or freezing of fish offal is necessary. Dramm Corporation has been producing fertilizer since 2001 and their liquid fish fertilizers are OMRI listed “organic” inputs. Because the end product is “organic,” no foreign materials are allowed in totes/barrels.

Midwestern row crop organic growers represent the largest set of customers although there are many smaller growers around the country using liquid fish fertilizers. Demand is strong and growing year-over-year for organic inputs so there is a good future for utilizing Michigan commercial fish waste. Those who process fish and need a way to dispose of their fish waste might find a solution with Dramm Corporation.

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.

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