VIU’s Deep Bay Marine Station could play important role in supporting marine agri-food businesses. — Vancouver Island University photo

Deep Bay station poised to become seafood hub centre

VIU facility can become food innovation centre

Vancouver Island University’s Deep Bay Marine Field Station has been identified as a potential location for the establishment of a regional food innovation centre.

Deep Bay is one of six sites in the province to receive funding from the provincial government to develop a feasibility study or business plan to determine the potential and capacity to offer a food processing centre in their region.

“We are grateful for the support from the Ministry of Agriculture,” says manager Carl Butterworth. “This is an exciting opportunity for the Deep Bay Marine Field Station. We have the majority of infrastructure in place already and the potential is there to become a world-recognized seafood product innovation centre on Canada’s west coast.”

The facility, a marine biological research facility in Bowser that is operated by the university’s Centre for Shellfish Research, is perfectly positioned to become a dedicated seafood hub space, as it is close to the majority of shellfish operations on the Island, approximately one hour south of Campbell River, and one hour north of VIU’s Nanaimo campus.

The Ministry of Agriculture launched the B.C. Food Innovation Network in November 2018 as part of the Feed BC mandate. The network will be made up of regionally scaled and interconnected food hubs, linking food producers and processors with shared technology, research and development, production equipment, expertise and services. Once completed it will provide food, beverage and natural health products manufacturers in B.C. with tools, resources and expertise to innovate and commercialize products to grow their businesses.

More than $176,000 was dedicated for the first round of studies, which identified opportunities in various areas across British Columbia. Deep Bay received $62,500 from the province to complete a feasibility study for a Seafood Innovation Centre integrated into the existing research centre.

MRSB Consulting Services in association with Peter Crooks, the former executive director of Canada’s Smartest Kitchen, a food product and brand development centre at The Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, was contracted to complete the study.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture there are more than 100 species of wild and farmed fish, shellfish and marine plants harvested commercially in BC. In 2016, seafood companies in the province produced a total of 506 different seafood commodities.

The feasibility study showed there is broad support across the different seafood sectors in the province for an innovation centre that focuses on a number of challenges the industry faces, including improving processing capabilities through new technologies and food sciences support.

Stakeholders spoke to the need for innovative packaging that increases shelf life, reduces costs or is biodegradable, and fish product development that would use all of the seafood product, eliminating waste.

“One of the unique things that we bring to the table is the depth of scientific expertise behind us to go into the brood stock development side of this, answering a need identified by industry,” adds Butterworth. “The existing Centre for Shellfish Research at VIU and the new Centre for Innovation in Fish Health are additional assets which support the industry’s competitiveness and sustainability.”

Opportunities exist for students in a variety of departments such as marketing, graphic design, business and the Culinary Arts program to receive training and participate in the activities of the Seafood Innovation Centre, gaining expertise in new and value-added product development.

“We need to ensure this makes financial sense for the university,” says Butterworth. “We are exploring options for private sector involvement, funding opportunities and letters of support from local government. We are also consulting with the K’omoks First Nation because they have experience in seafood processing, shellfish aquaculture, wild fisheries and the centre can benefit from First Nations traditional knowledge of natural resources.”

The regional Seafood Innovation Centre will be connected and networked with a Core Innovation Centre at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

The marine fisheries, aquaculture and seafood sectors are important contributors to the provincial economy and are the foundation for many coastal communities in BC. Harvesting, aquaculture and processing contribute more than 7,700 jobs in BC and generate a wholesale value of approximately $1.7 billion annually.

— NEWS Staff, submitted

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