P.E.I. company's new bait fishes as well as traditional bait, says UPEI researcher
Bait Masters Inc. building $1 million processing facility at Nine Mile Creek, P.E.I.
A P.E.I. company preparing to scale up production for a new alternative bait got some good news from a study just published by a UPEI researcher.
It found that the new bait sausage created by Bait Masters catches as many lobster as traditional baits, such as herring and mackerel.
The new bait is a mix of fish, oil and other organic matters in a biodegradable casing, which is why the company describes the product as a bait sausage.
The results are based on field trials in P.E.I. bays in the summer of 2019.
"We did the study by trap, and the traps were randomized, which means … some traps had alternative bait, some had traditional bait," said Krishna Thakur, assistant professor at the Atlantic Veterinary College.
"Once they were brought back from the water, there were people counting individual lobsters in each of the traps, and keeping record of that."
Thakur said the analysis showed a similar number of lobsters caught in traps using the alternative bait and traditional bait.
"It's very important because the bait quality and its effectiveness is tied to the income that the fishermen generate," Thakur said.
"So they are very reluctant to try any new product, because if it's not going to work, they will lose the catch and their money so they need to be very sure that it's going to work and for that, they need robust data to convince them."
Mackerel and herring, the traditional bait used by the lobster fishery on P.E.I., have become increasingly more expensive and difficult for Island fishermen to find.
The federal Department of Fisheries has also been cutting quotas, as stocks continue to decline.
"We don't claim that our bait is any better than traditional bait right now, but at least we know we have something that can potentially replace what we're using right now for bait, which is mackerel and herring," said Mark Prevost, co-founder of Bait Masters.
"There's a pretty serious sustainability issue with mackerel and herring right now. Our product uses 65 per cent [fish] by-product. The other 35 per cent of the ingredients are all organic and all natural."
Prevost said the results of the field trials come at an important point for the P.E.I. company.
"We've worked at it for four years, we've tried many different recipes and different formulas," Prevost said.
"With our erosion rate, it fishes a little bit longer so on the days where weather sometimes prevents fishermen from going out, it'll continue to fish. We're getting up to five days with the new formula that we're using now."
The company has been testing the bait sausages in waters around Nova Scotia and New Brunswick over the summer of 2020, and now hopes to take the bait south.
"We're looking at heading down to Maine and New Hampshire as fast as we can with COVID, but there's going to be some challenges around that," Prevost said.
"Similar to what we've done here, a larger field test, working with some of the fishermen there and potentially some of the universities down in Maine."
Bait Masters has also started construction on a new $1 million production facility at Nine Mile Creek, P.E.I., which will dramatically scale up what the company can produce.
"We're aiming for 330,000 pounds right now, and we consider that the next real big field test, essentially, we get that in the water and see if we can improve on the product and go from there," said company co-founder Wally MacPhee.
"It's a little daunting, I'll be honest. We'll be able to make as much in a day as what we made in a year last year."
MacPhee said the company's main target is the crustacean fishery, lobster and crab, but they'd also like to get the bait sausages in snow crab traps in Newfoundland, and then down along the eastern seaboard of the U.S.
"It's a big step in sustainability where we can make four pounds of bait with one pound of mackerel," MacPhee said.
"Going forward, if the fish numbers, the stocks are declining as they say, and they're in critical condition, we can manage to have bait for the traps and also a more sustainable fishery for the mackerel and the herring and hopefully their numbers will come back."
MacPhee said the plan is to have the facility at Nine Mile Creek operational by early December, to start producing bait sausages for next year's fishery.
He said they have primarily private investors right now, including some fishermen in the area and people as far away as California.
The hope is to eventually employ up to a dozen people, including themselves.
"This is where we're from and we love being here," MacPhee said.
"It means a lot. We're doing something here and generating a little bit of growth. It means a lot to me being a resident out here my whole life."