Sea cucumbers going commercial
Old Perlican processors among those applying for licences to serve Asian market
As the exploratory sea cucumber fishery moves closer to becoming a commercial harvest, processors are beginning to apply for licences to process the delicate marine life form.
Both Quin-Sea Fisheries Ltd. in Old Perlican and Beothic Fish Processors Ltd. in New-Wes-Valley have applied for primary processing licences to process sea cucumbers.
Larry Yetman, a resource management officer with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said background surveys have determined there is a significant resource located in the St-Pierre Bank (3Ps).
“ We feel there’s an opportunity here to further develop the resource and provide some commercial opportunity for additional fishers in that fishery,” he said.
Over the last three years, the fishery has grown in size. In 2008, 698 metric tonnes were caught at a landed value of $396,000.
By 2010, the harvest had grown to 898 metric tonnes caught at a landed value of almost $600,000. The harvesting of sea cucumbers usually commences in the fall.
The Fogo Island Co-operative Society Limited has been getting a good response from the Asian market, according to Yetman.
“ We’re optimistic that the marketplace is aware and wants the product,” he said.
“Hopefully, this will develop into a sustainable fishery that’s profitable for all involved.”
Anywhere from 10-30 centimetres in length, sea cucumbers are used in Asian cuisine, and their health benefits have been investigated for alternative medicine purposes.
DFO initiated the exploratory fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2003.
Paul Grant, executive vice-president for Beothic, said his company is looking at the species as a new business opportunity to pursue.
“Development of these underutilized species is not a new thing we’re into,” he said, noting Beothic was one of the first processors of crab in the province.
“I think we owe it to our workers to look at other opportunities and not just focus on the main species we’ve been dealing with.”
Similar to Grant, Quin-Sea general manager Greg Hardy said sea cucumber processing represents an opportunity for his company to offer more employment opportunities for plant workers, adding that local harvesters have expressed interest in the species.
“In efforts to service our current fishermen who fish other species for us, with a growing interest in the Asian markets in sea cucumber product, we’re trying to increase our processing facility to encompass sea cucumber and get more employment for our employees at the plant.”
Yetman cautions the sea cucumber fishery will not likely resolve ongoing problems within the industry, and he expects growth to happen in increments as DFO continues to monitor the fishery closely.
Harvesters are using a device similar to a scallop drag towed across the bottom of the ocean to catch sea cucumbers, though Yetman said it does not interact with the sea floor as much as a scallop drag.
DFO is now seeking expressions of interest from harvesters willing to take part in a commercial harvest of sea cucumber.