P.E.I. company testing new bait for lobster and crab fishery

A P.E.I. company has created a new bait that it hopes will someday replace traditional bait such as herring and mackerel. Bait Masters Inc. is testing the new product in the fall crab and lobster fishery on P.E.I.

'We recognized the need for something better'

Mark Prevost, left, and Wally MacPhee carry a load of the bait onto a fishing boat in Nine Mile Creek, P.E.I. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

A P.E.I. company has created a new bait that it hopes will someday replace traditional bait such as herring and mackerel.

Bait Masters Inc. is testing the new product in the fall crab and lobster fishery on P.E.I.

"The new bait is a mix of fish and other organic matters in a biodegradable casing," said Wally MacPhee, co-owner of the company.

"It reduces the amount of pelagic fish used in the bait process. We're hoping to reduce it by 50 per cent per piece so it would be a help with sustainability."

Mackerel and herring, the traditional bait used by the lobster fishery on P.E.I., has become increasingly more expensive and difficult for Island fishermen to find.

The new bait is a mix of fish, fish parts and oil in a biodegradable casing. They call it their 'secret formula.' (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"The numbers are dropping, they're having a hard time catching them, catching what they used to catch," MacPhee said.

"We recognized the need for something better than the current way they were doing it."

'Lots of attempts'

Co-owner Mark Prevost worked for almost a decade in the fishery.

"It was the cost and the waste for me," Prevost said.

"The short amount of time I spent fishing mackerel, it was how much was wasted and how hard it was to catch and with the new quotas coming out, how much more expensive it's going to be."

The new bait doesn't have a name yet but they do refer to it as a sausage. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

The two started looking at alternative baits a couple of years ago.

They ordered what was available in North America, with the idea of possibly becoming a distributor.

Prevost, left, and MacPhee worked with staff at the BioFoodTech facility in Charlottetown to scale up production. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"But there wasn't any available that actually worked or fished well so we made our own," Prevost said.

"It took a lot of attempts but now I think we're pretty close to having a finalized recipe."

The expansion is going to be pretty quick. Long term...we'd like to see it in as many traps as possible.—Mark Prevost, Bait Masters Inc. 

They turned to the BioFoodTech Centre to help them scale up to produce 10,000 units, after starting in their own kitchens and barns.

"It's kind of a secret formula. We'll just keep it at that for now," MacPhee said.

The plant-based casing is made out of banana peels and a few other ingredients that they don't want to reveal. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Testing phase

Bait Masters had the bait in traps on nine boats in the spring lobster fishery, along with an employee who tracked the catches, comparing the alternative bait to the traditional fish.

"We found out that it fishes well, fishermen seem to like it," MacPhee said.

"It is still going through its testing phases so we're going to keep tweaking as we go, but it seems to be working well and it's fishing right along with the other bait."

Bait Masters hired observers to collect data on boats in the spring and fall season, comparing 36 traps fished with their bait against 36 traps of traditional bait. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Prevost and MacPhee said they haven't set a price for the new bait but say it will be comparable per pound to traditional bait.

"It was a good feeling to see some positive results finally," Prevost said.

"We've definitely made many attempts at it and it took quite some time, so now to get feedback from the fishermen especially, it's been great."

Bait shortage

Donald Macdonald fishes out of Nine Mile Creek, P.E.I., and has been using the bait in both the spring and fall fishery. 

"I think the bait's really good, it's clean, efficient and it lasts," Macdonald said.

"The issue is getting it to fish as good as the other bait and once they do, it'll really sell."

Donald Macdonald is trying out the new bait in some of his traps, in the spring lobster fishery and now fishing for crab. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Macdonald said he will use more of it next season — if the bait continues to fish well.

"Bait's more expensive, harder to get and you always want to try something," Macdonald said.

"I wouldn't want to go and set all my gear right away, but keep trying it slowly and if the numbers keep working out then, yeah."

The new bait is being tested on lobster and crab boats out of Nine Mile Creek and Abram-Village, P.E.I. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Prevost and MacPhee will send the data they've collected on the new bait to a researcher at UPEI.

Next year, their goal is to make 300,000 units to start selling commercially in the spring of 2020.

"The expansion is going to be pretty quick," Prevost said.

"Long term I guess we'd like to see it in as many traps as possible."

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Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog.


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