Section 3: Working with Boaters on Waste Management

Your patrons have a vested interest in keeping your facility and the surrounding waters clean. They expect a pleasant, clean, litter-free experience when they boat at your marina. This section outlines a variety of ways you can work with boaters to properly manage waste. Even organic waste — for example waste from pets and wildlife or discarded scraps from fish cleaning — require attention.

Learning Objectives 

By the end of this section, you should be able to:

  • Provide infrastructure or alternative guidance for managing fish cleaning waste.
  • Implement practices to manage pet and wildlife waste.
  • Inform boaters and staff of marina rules on waste management and proper disposal of materials.

Best Management Practices

Manage Fish Waste

If your marina services sport anglers, you must make provisions to properly dispose of fish waste. In many states it is illegal to dispose of fish waste directly to the waterway. Improperly handled fish waste can deteriorate water quality, create odors, and attract vermin and undesirable insects. Marinas should adopt the following management practices to properly handle fish waste at their facilities.

  • Provide a fish cleaning station or post signs and contractually bind your customers to the proper disposal of fish waste. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Prohibit fish cleaning outside of designated areas.
  • Check with your local waste coordinator to determine availability of fish waste composting programs. Contact your state environmental agency for requirements and assistance for composting the waste at the marina, or for finding a commercial composting facility that could take the waste. Regional Best Management Practice

More on Fish Waste Composting

Proper composting will control the odor and, over time, will produce an excellent soil conditioner that can be used for your landscaping needs. With good understanding of the composting process, fish waste can by composted by marinas at a low cost and minimal labor requirements, however, some commercial composting facilities will also be willing to accept the waste. Some facilities might charge a fee, which is typically lower than landfill fees.

Fish waste can be a great feedstock for an anaerobic digester with biogas recovery facility. These facilities can accept macerated fish waste and may accept whole fish waste. Some facilities also provide hauling services and are capable of transferring fish waste from storage tanks. Some waste haulers specialize in collecting organic wastes and delivering to these facilities. The cost of this service is typically lower than landfill fees. Many haulers provide the organic waste collection bins as part of the service. Contact your local solid waste management district or your state environmental agency for a list of anaerobic digester facilities and organic haulers available in your area.

If fish waste volumes are manageable, carcasses could be frozen and properly disposed of when feasible. Freezing allows for less frequent waste hauling and minimizes the associated odor.

  • You can also consult your state to determine if solid fish waste can be disposed of in a landfill. If allowed, a solid waste receptacle should be placed close to the station to handle and store properly bagged fish waste. Consider providing or stocking your ship’s store with heavy-duty, biodegradable garbage bags to accommodate fish waste. Work with your waste hauler to arrange a pick up schedule that ensures fish waste does not accumulate and breakdown, attracting insects and vermin. Also, another option for fish waste disposal is to
  • Alternatively, instruct boaters to dispose of waste at home.

Fish Cleaning Station Design

Ideally, fish cleaning stations should be supplied with potable water, be screened and sheltered, contain sanitary cleaning surfaces (preferably stainless steel), be equipped with properly connected floor drains, and be sized to accommodate the volume of fish waste generated at the marina.

Fish cleaning stations can be equipped with mechanical grinders that macerate fish carcasses. If so equipped, the station can be connected with sanitary sewer for further treatment of fish waste and/or wash water. Since not all municipal sewage treatment plants are capable of handling the Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) associated with fish waste, it is imperative that local sewerage officials be included in the decision process.

Where no municipal connection is available, wash water and ground fish waste can be stored in properly sized belowground septic tanks for periodic removal and proper disposal by a licensed liquid industrial waste hauler. Liquefied fish waste will not be accepted by a landfill. Tanks storing fish waste should be equipped with proper venting that disperses fish odors away from the marina facility and adjacent properties.

Additional Resources:

  • Composting Fish Waste” (printed guide, available by request from Minnesota Sea Grant). This booklet provides instructions for composting 25 five-gallon buckets of fish waste per week using sphagnum peat moss and wood chips.
  • The Compost Solution to Dockside Fish Wastes” (PDF). A University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute report describing how to compost fish waste and transform it into a useful, potentially marketable product.

Manage Pet WastePet waste station

Because many people bring their pets along on boating trips, there should be proper facilities to manage pet waste. Many individuals simply throw their pet waste overboard, and this should not be allowed.

  • Provide dog walks or contractually bind customers to the proper disposal of pet waste. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Provide a special area away from the shoreline for pets to be taken for walks. Encourage owners to use the space by installing fences to allow patrons to exercise their dogs off-leash or by installing park benches. The area should be grassy and away from storm drains.
  • Provide plastic bags and trash receptacles for the disposal of pet waste.
  • Research composting facilities and anaerobic digester facilities in your area that might accept pet waste and any special requirements needed. It might be possible to combine this waste with the fish waste, thus maximizing your organic waste management efforts.
  • Educate your patrons about the problems posed by pet waste and ask them to clean up after their pets.

Manage Wildlife Waste

  • Discourage the feeding of waterbirds and waterfowl in your marina. This encourages birds to flock to the marina and become long-term residents. The birds’ waste can contaminate water and create a mess on boats and walkways. Regional Best Management Practice
  • If wild birds do become established at your marina, there are several abatement measures that can be used to control wild bird populations:
    • Fencing to restrict access to water and grazing areas
    • Scare devices (both visual and sound)
    • Habitat alterations
    • Reproductive control (requires permits)
    • Trained border collies
    • Chemical repellents

For more information on abatement, see: Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management.

Educate Boaters about Marina Waste Management

  • Ensure boaters are aware of prohibition on dumping debris into waterways. Within all waters of the states and Great Lakes: it is illegal to dump plastic, paper, rags, glass, metal, crockery, dunnage (lining and packing material, nets, lines, etc.), and food, i.e., any type of garbage.
  • Include language about prohibition of dumping in your slip agreements and service provider contracts. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Encourage boaters to contact marina staff to handle hazardous wastes. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Photocopy and distribute Waste Management and Recycling Tip Sheets, see Resources and Tools: Tip Sheets. Note: there is room to add your marina’s name and logo.
  • If available, inform boaters of Clean Boater Programs. For example, Ohio Clean Boater Program, Discover Better Boating (New York Sea Grant).
  • Post information about county household hazardous waste collection events and recycling centers.
  • Provide information on the proper disposal of unwanted medicines: wrap and trash unused medications and personal care products per local solid waste guidelines. Do not flush!

Suggested signage:

  • Post signs advising disposal in designated receptacles (e.g., recycling, trash, hazardous materials such as engine oil, antifreeze, paints, solvents, varnishes, lead batteries and transmission fluids. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Post signs indicating what can and must be recycled.
  • Post signs directing people to recycling and trash receptacles if they are not in plain view.
  • Include instruction to contact the marina if unsure how to handle disposal of an item.

For suggested sign templates, see Resources and Tools: Suggested Signage and the Wisconsin Clean Marina Guidebook’s Marina Management Chapter.

Next: Unit Review