A new sea cucumber-processing plant is opening in Hackett's Cove, N.S., to take advantage of a growing interest in the edible, cucumber-shaped marine animal. 

"Nova Scotia is the home of the Atlantic cucumber. That's why I'm here," said Sam Gao, CEO of Atlantic Sea Cucumber, at the official opening of his plant on Thursday.

In 2015, Nova Scotia exported $5.3 million worth of sea cucumbers, up from $3.6 million in 2012. 

Gao sees the most potential in selling his products in Asian markets. Although the dark, slippery and soft characteristics of sea cucumbers aren't something Canadians may be used to, they are a traditional delicacy in China.

Atlantic Sea Cucumber

Atlantic Sea Cucumber sees the most potential in selling its products in Asian markets. (CBC)

Exports of sea cucumbers from Nova Scotia to China have jumped almost 20-fold from 2013 to 2015, according to data from Statistics Canada and the U.S. Census Bureau. 

But winning over Chinese customers hasn't been easy.
"The Chinese market, they are not able to accept, completely, the Canadian sea cucumber, but we are working on it. We are educating them," said Gao.

Canadian sea cucumbers are a different species than the common sea cucumbers eaten in China. Canadian sea cucumbers are mostly wild and have smooth bodies, whereas Chinese sea cucumbers are farmed and have spikes coverings their bodies.

Atlantic Sea Cucumber

The Atlantic Sea Cucumber plant in Hackett’s Cove will produce more than 450 kilograms of dry sea cucumber per day when running at full capacity. (CBC)

"[In China] we cannot find any piece, at the moment, that's wild sea cucumber," said Gao.

There's also a significant price difference. Gao says Chinese sea cucumbers can sell for at least $1,000 per pound (about $2,200 a kilogram) in China, while his Canadian sea cucumbers fetch about $55 to $65 per pound (roughly $120 to $140 a kilogram) in Canada.

"[In China] they want to pay more money to buy healthy products, like sea cucumber," said Brian Nan, Atlantic Sea Cucumbers' distributor in China.

Plans to employ 50

Canada Sea Cucumber Processors Association, also launched today, aims to act as a united voice for the handful of sea cucumber plants in Atlantic Canada trying to break into overseas markets.

Though there have been signs that China's speedy economy is slowing down, exports from the Port of Halifax to Asia have continued to grow.

"As this company grows, they'll continue to make inroads into China, which is a key market for exports, and so we're hoping that they can build on that," said Lane Farguson, with the Halifax Port Authority.

"What's more important here is not so much the volume of product that will be moving initially, but the fact that this is jobs, employment and business development here in Nova Scotia."

Atlantic Sea Cucumber plans to employ up to 50 people when it is at full capacity and produce more than 450 kilograms of dry sea cucumber per day.