What's happening on the cutting edge of
By Cathie Horan, Special to the Gazette
Research and development has become a major focus of the Newfoundland fishery of today, and
no wonder. "Without science and technology, how could we ever adapt to changing market
forces, with -- for example -- new farmed species or new products in the future?" observed
Alastair O'Rielly, the Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation's (CCFI) managing director.
Since it began in 1989 CCFI staff members have teamed up with approximately 80 researchers
from Memorial and its Marine Institute (MI), to help companies solve everything from quality
assurance problems at processing plants to fine-tuning harvesting techniques in the swordfish
fishery. CCFI has been involved in more than 200 leading-edge initiatives, making it the primary R
and D partner in today's fishery and aquaculture sectors.
Mr. O'Rielly said industry's participation and leadership in research are essential to building a
successful fishery. CCFI's list of clients indicates a bright future, and includes Fishery Products
International (FPI), Fisheries Resources Development Ltd. (a subsidiary of National Sea
Products), Beothic Fish Processors Ltd., and Clearwater Fine Foods.
Of course the researchers are as important as their industry partners, and Mr. O'Rielly said
Memorial excels in terms of human resources.
"In all sectors, we regularly work with seasoned, resourceful and talented staff who are dedicated
to making a contribution to the future of the industry," he said. "MI's Aquaculture, Fishing
Technology and Seafood Development units, the Ocean Sciences Centre, C-CORE, the
departments of Biochemistry and Biology, and the faculties of Engineering and Applied Science,
and Business Administration all contribute a unique blend of talents and strengths and, together
are capable of tackling just about any opportunity that surfaces."
Researching a new species
The subjects of CCFI research are diverse. Industry giant FPI has joined with CCFI and the Ocean
Sciences Centre to uncover the mysteries of a brand new aquaculture species, the yellowtail
flounder. The flatfish, a successful product in FPI's line of foods, has undergone more than two
years of productive study. This summer, work on a pilot-scale culture facility will begin.
Sea urchins for Japan
On the west coast of the island, biologist Bob Hooper is in the midst of a two-year study on sea
urchins. Traditionally an ignored species, opportunities in the Japanese markets have changed that
-- urchin roe sacs are a delicacy and command high prices. CCFI commissioned Dr. Hooper to
examine ways to ranch sea urchins so that the problems of harvesting the animal during
mid-winter, when the roe sacs are at their best, could be avoided. As well, the size of the animal's
roe sacs can be increased, which will increase their value.
Dr. Hooper believes he is now on to a formula for success: the quality and size of the sea urchin
roe can be manipulated to suit the particular tastes of the Japanese if grown under controlled
conditions and fed the right seaweed. The final results of Dr. Hooper's work will be available later
A highlight of the past year's work in harvesting research was an innovative technology
developed for 65-foot fishing vessels. Developed and tested on one vessel so far, the new anti-roll
technology provides safe, smooth sailing on board vessels that are known for rapid,
uncomfortable rolling. The system consists of a three-compartment water filled steel tank, similar
to tank systems available for larger vessels. The water flows back and forth through tuners, which
separate the three chambers, lagging the movement of the roll enough to counteract it. The
advantages over other systems include the fact that it continues to work during fishing and it
doesn't ice up. CCFI and the system's inventor, Dr. Don Bass, plan to transfer this technology to
the private sector.
Competing with crab
Despite the groundfish moratorium, processing research in the province has also continued
unabated. Processors have not had an easy time; those who have survived have done so by
concentrating on other species, such as crab. But even in the crab fishery, processors cannot rely
on past practices. Global competition from other crab fisheries is fierce, so crab processors here
have had to focus on enhancing quality and improving productivity. The Fisheries Association of
Newfoundland and Labrador recently contracted CCFI to examine crab processing, and using the
expertise of C-CORE and the Seafood Development Unit, new processing methods which
safeguard the natural fresh flavor and texture of snow crab are being developed. Summer trials
using pilot technologies are planned, and the new equipment could be available to industry within
a year.Looking ahead
What's next? Mr. O'Rielly said there's still plenty of room for growth in fish farming. In fact,
researchers are making preliminary investigations into the farming of lucrative flatfish species such
as witch flounder, and CCFI is looking into the transfer of halibut culture technologies from
Europe. There is room, too, for existing commercial species to expand, including steelhead trout
and mussels. In harvesting, underdeveloped species and conservation-oriented gear will continue
to be important. In terms of processing, those species that are successful commercially, such as
shellfish, will be the focus.
Since St. John's is home to CCFI, it concentrates primarily on provincial issues, but the centre
also works with national clients. As Mr. O'Rielly pointed out, "research and development benefits
not only the advancement of brand new innovations, such as those being researched in
aquaculture today, but is also invaluable to established operators everywhere who wish to
increase productivity, cut costs or produce new products. There is no end to the opportunities
that science can open up."