Vince Stuart had 30,000 reasons to smile when he was announced the winner of a lobster bait challenge in Yarmouth. But he was coy when it came to one thing – actual details about his bait entry that had won the competition.
For now, Stuart is keeping these details to himself and said he expects to have more to say and share about his innovation when spring rolls around. That will follow some more trials of his innovation that will take place in February during the lobster fishery off southwestern Nova Scotia.
Still, Stuart, from Clare Machine Works, did say he was both happy and surprised to have won the challenge and the $30,000 prize that came with it.
“I’m blown away. I really didn’t expect to win,” he said, even after being notified that he was among the top 3 finishers.
Stuart said the premise of his alternative bait entry is something he had been thinking about and mulling over since 2014.
“When this competition started, it elevated my interest in looking at it. We’ll now move forward and develop and test over the winter,” he said.
The lobster bait challenge competition was focused on building an alternative bait for the lobster industry; one – Ignite Labs in Yarmouth says – that would be environmentally friendly by maximizing the use of seafood by-products; and also, would be sustainable and meet market demand.
Ignite Labs, Perennia, the Western Regional Enterprise Network, the Nova Scotia fisheries department and ACOA were amongst those involved in the alternative bait challenge, which was launched in July. Entrepreneurs and businesses took up the challenge.
“We got submissions from all over the Atlantic provinces. The judges had a very challenging short list, but they came up with a final three,” said Doug Jones, CAO of Ignite Labs in Yarmouth. “We had an experimental licence with DFO, which allowed us to partner with Coldwater Lobster Association and some fishermen with the sea trials. Really, what it came down to at the end, was of those three who caught the most lobsters.”
Jones said a goal of the challenge was to come up with ways to decrease the amount of herring and mackerel that are going into bait products.
Jeff Mullen, the director of enterprise development with ACOA, expanded on goals of the challenge, recalling the day earlier this year when he and Jones invited fish processors from the region to a meeting. No one knew why they had been invited.
They were curious and a little guarded, Mullen said.
“We told them we’re not going to talk about your sales. We’re not going to talk about your quota or where you’re fishing. We’re here to talk about your waste,” he said, noting that 70 per cent of fish turns into waste. Only 30 per cent is fillets. “They said we don’t have a problem (with waste) because it’s all going to lobster bait.”
Mullen said they talked with the processors, telling them, “Wouldn’t you like us to work with you to experiment about all of the other things you could make from fish waste: enzymes, cancer treatment drugs, oils for food supplements, pet foods? They said, ‘We would love to do that, but we can’t sacrifice the lobster industry.’”
What followed later was the idea of exploring other possible sources of bait for the lobster industry. Mullen said the lobster bait challenge was 100 per cent supported by DFO, which gladly allowed three experimental licences. The captains involved in the trials of the alternative bait fully embraced the initiative as well.
“They kept data sheets, when they fished, what the temperature was, what the bottom was. They were comparing traditional lobster bait with this new experimental bait. How many lobsters were caught, male or female, legal or not legal,” Mullen said.
All lobsters caught during the trial were returned to the water.
The captains were also asked for their input and feedback to improve further on the ideas pitched. Mullen said overall things went very smoothly.
“It didn’t require any change in gear. It didn’t slow down the fishermen at all. There was 100 per cent positive feedback came from each fisherman.”
Jones, meanwhile, notes that it was a really interesting process and is just the start of other innovative ideas and challenges they’ll be pursuing when it comes to helping out, benefiting and working with the fishing industry.
“Come January you’re going to hear more happening,” Jones said.