A Wedgeport, N.S., company that exports sea cucumbers to Asia is getting an interest-free loan from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency to commercialize newly patented technology it has developed.
Ocean Pride Fisheries Ltd. says it will use the $500,000 to buy new equipment to eliminate waste and create so-called nutraceuticals from the bottom-dwelling invertebrates caught off the coast of Nova Scotia.
Nutraceuticals are components of food used for medicinal purposes.
"One product is an oil, there is another is dried. We'll have multiple products from this," said company president Jules LeBlanc.
Sea cucumbers are sold as a health food, primarily in Hong Kong, mainland China and Korea.
Three months ago, Ocean Pride received a U.S. patent for its technology. The Canadian patent was issued two weeks ago.
"We'll use this for new equipment for the nutraceuticals," LeBlanc said.
Like other seafood companies, Ocean Pride is benefiting from both low fuel prices and Canadian dollar. But LeBlanc credits a growing Chinese middle class for the company's growth.
"We're optimistic. I don't see anything negative in the near future. China — even with the downturn — seafood has remained stable," Leblanc told CBC News.
A relation of sea urchins and starfish, sea cucumbers are caught by dragging a narrow roll bar, which skips along the ocean floor.
The company has an enterprise allocation quota for 771,100 kilograms caught off the coast of Nova Scotia. It currently employs about 70 people on a seasonal basis and will add another 25, according to Leblanc.
Innovating in a traditional industry
West Nova MP Colin Fraser made the funding announcement Thursday afternoon at the Wedgeport Sport Tuna Fishing Museum. The newly elected Liberal noted that Ocean Pride started as a herring processor, moved to dogfish then to sea cucumbers.
"This is a company that innovates and adapts," Fraser told CBC News. "This is going to be the way of the future in creating economic growth in Atlantic Canada."
LeBlanc is the second generation to lead the company, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary. It was started by his father, Milton LeBlanc.
The company has received a total of $747,000 in assistance from ACOA — including Thursday's loan.
"We have a perfect repayment record," said LeBlanc.
For more information on sea cucumbers, skip to 2:40 in this Fisheries Canada video.