Musseling in on new markets
April 15, 2010— Benoit's Cove, Newfoundland and Labrador
If you want to know how Newfoundland and Labrador's seafood industry has evolved, just ask the people who work at Allen's Fisheries Ltd. in Benoit's Cove. This family-formed enterprise dates back four generations and has thrived by processing species of fish typically associated with the region's waters. More recently, the company has diversified its output, so that it now also processes a significant portion of all the mussels cultivated in marine farms along the provincial coastline.
This new capability began with a major mussel-farming operation, Badger Bay Mussel Farms Ltd. Badger Bay and Allen's formed a partnership that subsequently grew to purchase and distribute product from eight other mussel farms. The large volume of farmed product that now had to be processed and distributed to market, left Allen's with a technical challenge.
"As a traditional fish processor, we had no experience with the handling, processing and quality control of farmed mussels," explains Vice-President Richard Allen.
More specifically, the firm needed a facility where mussels could be stored live for exceptionally long periods, so that Allen's could maintain a significant inventory for delivery to markets, even when farmers might not be harvesting them on a regular basis. This kind of stored surplus is crucial to maintaining deliveries during the long winter freeze-up and spring thaw periods, when the mussel farms become less accessible for months.
The importance of such a facility was identified by Chris Brown, an Industrial Technology Advisor working with the National Research Council's Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP). This program works closely with small and medium-sized enterprises, helping them grow their businesses, increase their competitiveness, and enhance their impact in the marketplace.
Brown put Allen's in touch with Memorial University's Fisheries and Marine Institute, which includes a Centre for Aquaculture and Seafood Development. Researchers there began investigating the design for an ultra-long-term, live-holding mussel storage system. NRC-IRAP funded this project and through Brown, provided significant technical input. This was accompanied by additional support from Allen's and the Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation, another unit within Memorial University.
The resulting system, which consists of a core water circulation technology and interlocking grid of stackable containers, has made it possible for Allen's and Badger Bay to spearhead a year-round North American market for mussels from Newfoundland and Labrador. This product, advertised as "Iceberg Select", has had a profound and positive economic impact on an industry that occupies rural settings. Growing sales have nurtured a new generation of mussel farmers, while workers at Allen's enjoy year-round employment. Plans are already under way to keep up with demand by constructing a second holding facility in another part of the province.
Meanwhile, Richard Allen credits the unique resources of NRC-IRAP with the success of this venture. "NRC-IRAP offers significant benefits and flexibility to our company and the industry as a whole," he says. "Allen's Fisheries Ltd. offers its full support to this ongoing and very worthwhile initiative."
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