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Environment & Climate Change

These anglers are looking for a different kind of catch: trash

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Glass and plastic bottles were scattered up and down the shoreline of Zug Island.

You see it all the time in city streams and rivers: all kinds of trash, much of it plastic, bobbing along the edge of the water. You know it’s not right. You wonder how it got there. And you wonder what can be done about it. One  group of volunteers has stopped asking questions and started doing something.

The sky is gray and the wind is a little more than chilly as a Tom Nardone steers his motorboat toward deeper water.

“We're in the Detroit River. We're at the Delray boat launch and we are trash fishing,” Nardone said. 

Basically, instead of fishing for fish, Trash Fishing volunteers are fishing out trash. They use nets and trash pickers to get what they can reach.

Tom Nardone put together this event, but this was not his idea. It was his 11-year-old son Mark’s.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Mark Nardone pulls a loose buoy from the weeds.

"My dad runs the group where he picked up trash on  land in parks," said Mark. "But I wanted a boat, and also there was lots of trash on the river that wash up on the side."

We head toward a channel that goes around Zug Island. About the only thing on Zug Island is a big steel mill. If you look at a satellite photo on Google Maps, it mostly looks like a blackened piece of earth. Surprisingly, there are a lot of birds. Maybe not so surprising, there's a lot of trash around the island.

"Want to just make a run into the weeds and see how we do?" Tom Nardone asked his son.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Charlie Spiess finds a treasure trove of trash.

There are a lot of bottles and jugs and pieces of Styrofoam in those weeds. It looks as though there’s no way the three boats out trash fishing today can clean up all of it.

Nardone says it can be overwhelming. So make a game out of it.

“You know, you get the biggest ones first: the antifreeze bottles and the oil cans. And then you're doing the water bottles and the booze bottles, but then it gets down to, like, the forks and the straws. But 100 feet down the river, you know, there are more antifreeze bottles and oil cans and things. So ... I just write it up as entertainment. So when I'm done being entertained by that spot I move on to the next one as long as I keep doing good work. I don't feel bad," he explained.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Tom Nardone reaches for trash that's tumbled down the bank next to this parking lot into the water.

Nardone notes that a lot of this trash is high up on the bank, next to some parking lots. He does not think this stuff floated here. He thinks it’s litter from the people using those parking lots.

He also thinks with a little thought, a lot of this stuff could be made from other materials.

“You can see ... some bait boxes, you know the things you buy worms in, those styrofoam ones. You know, that would be pretty easy to replace with a piece of cardboard or something and then they would just biodegrade. The other thing is, all this trash, all we see is the stuff that floats. We don't see the stuff that you throw away that sinks. You know that’s somewhere on the bottom of the river, you know, just hurting the environment,” Nardone said.

After a couple of hours, the 55 gallon drum on the boat is full, as well as a couple of plastic boxes on the floor of the boat. In another boat, Charlie Spiess has several bags of trash. Kevin Reini and Don King have filled up their dinghy. It's time to head back.

After we pulled up to the Delray ramp, awards are bestowed.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Just some of the trash Tom and Mark Nardone fished out of the river.

Kevin Reini wins the "most unusual" award for what looked to be an old golf cart wheel.

Tom Nardone says there are six more Trash Fishing events of this year.

"All you need is a little boat. I mean look at some of the boats that are out here. They're about as small as they come. A motor is really a plus. And then you can come out here and have a good time and clean up the environment. The next one is June 1st and 9 a.m. at St. Jean boat launch. So that's up near Belle Isle,” he noted.

As you might know, Belle Isle is a lot more pretty than Zug Island. But, there’s always trash. Plenty of it.

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