Laura Butterbrodt: The Memo: Local activists help save coral reefs

Mar. 10—Two Duluthians are doing their part to help save coral reefs from invasive lionfish while also creating a sustainable supply chain.

Nathan Lipinski and Josh Helmer are two co-founders of Olacoral and Castawave, companies that work side-by-side to harvest invasive lionfish from coral reefs in Belize, then use the fins of the fish to create jewelry and sell the fish fillets to markets.

"We're really creating an incredible supply chain that benefits every single person involved, from the fishermen, to the artisans, to the coral reefs, to our following of people who want to save the coral reefs, to feeding and supplying fresh fish to local markets in the USA," Lipinski said.

The companies were created last March and acquired by Milwaukee-based Agricycle in May. Agricycle, a for-profit organization with the mission statement "transforming waste into opportunity," provided funding and helps with the logistics of arranging the work outside the U.S. This includes the anglers in Belize who spear the lionfish and the artisans who create the bracelets with macramé and lionfish fins.

For each Castawave bracelet sold, one coral is planted. Helmer and Lipinski compare their bracelets to other environmental statement jewelry companies like 4ocean or Lokai. Castawave creates work for the artisans who haven't had tourists to buy their jewelry since the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic took effect.

The Olacoral side of the company focuses on the distribution of the lionfish meat and creates jobs for anglers in Belize.

"They're beautiful fish — they're just really troublesome," Lipinski said.

Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific. In the Carribean, they have no known natural predators and deplete the native fish populations that sustain coral reefs. The reefs in Belize were already stressed due to the effects of climate change and overfishing. With the added threat of lionfish, native fish populations are growing too small to both sustain the reef and the fishing industry.

"Although the ocean is thousands of miles away, it still affects our air quality and the way we live life," Helmer said. "The ocean only has so many fish, and right now it's being overfished. The pollution is getting worse and worse. Regardless of where you are in the United States, I think it is a big issue that you should be aware about."

Other business highlights:

— Erik and Jessica Lietz, owners of the BoomTown restaurant and brewery locations in Eveleth and Hibbing, hope to open BoomTown Duluth in May. The restaurant, originally set to open last spring, is located in the former Sunset Bar and Grill at 4483 Martin Road.

Duluth Pack has launched its Poirier Signature Series, a limited-release collection paying tribute to the manufacturer's founder, Camille Poirier. It is available in four styles, a new Heritage Tan canvas and stamped with a branded insignia, including Camille's signature.