BANGOR—Maine seafood processors gathered in Bangor in late November for the unveiling of a seafood extracting machine invented by Chinese entrepreneur Zhou Peng Fei. The blue device, the size of a large suitcase, was a scaled-down model of the room-sized machine in China which some believe will more efficiently extract chunk meat from green crabs and other crustacea. It’s already been used to extract meat from mitten crabs (which are smaller than green crabs) in China.
The machine’s inventor traveled to Maine at the invitation of Arundel researcher John der Kinderen who’s been working through a Maine Technology Institute (MTI) grant to develop a market for the non-native green crabs that have wreaked havoc on Maine’s soft shell clam population. The state’s Department of Marine Resources (DMR) reported that between 2012 and 2013, Maine’s soft shell clam landings declined from 11.1 million pounds to 10.6 million pounds. DMR attributed at least part of the decline to destruction by green crabs.
Darcie Couture, owner and lead scientist of Access International, a Brunswick-based biotoxin monitoring company, believes part of a solution could include finding a use for the invasive crabs.
“We’d be killing two birds with one stone if we remove the destructive species from the environment and find a useful purpose for those as well,” she said.
One of the major hindrances to marketing green crabs is their small size, just 2-5 inches wide, which makes extraction of the meat difficult and time consuming.
“The only limit is their size, because the flavor is excellent,” said der Kinderen. “Even experienced pickers cannot be convinced to pick them.”
The extraction device invented in China is the only one of its kind in the world, said der Kinderen. He will be applying for the implementation phase of the MTI grant in the spring; such funding could open the door for a Maine processor to work with him experimenting with the new equipment. Any processor interested in such an endeavor can contact him at email@example.com.
Zhou told the crowd of about 30 Maine processors, entrepreneurs, and university professors attending the Nov. 20 demonstration at the Oriental Jade Restaurant that the device can be used to extract meat not only from all types of crabs but also from lobsters. He said one worker, using the scaled-down version, was able to extract about 4 pounds of lobster body meat in an hour. His company in China is also developing other techniques and products to help eliminate waste in the shellfish industry, he said.
The crowd watched with interest as Tom Boulet, president of the Canadian Can Chine Global Ltd. who will market the device in North America, used the nozzle-shaped device on the outside of the machine to extract meat from small green crabs. Afterwards, Boulet held up an empty shell for the crowd to view.
Then, in a matter of minutes, he changed the nozzle so the device could extract lobster meat in a similar fashion. The only sounds in the room were the suction noise made by the machine and the clicking of cameras.
Through an interpreter, the inventor explained that the extracting machines can be leased from his company. The business will assume responsibility for maintenance, servicing and updates of the equipment. The lease cost will be based upon the amount of production.
Seafood processors seemed most interested in the machine’s potential to more efficiently extract lobster meat; as much as 50 percent of Maine lobster is currently discarded as waste.
“The same machine can do all types of crabs and lobsters,” said der Kinderen. “Changing from one species to another can be done in 10 minutes. It’s so extremely versatile.”
After the meeting, Spencer Fuller, a manager at Cozy Harbor Seafood, was skeptical about the business plan, which seems to encourage marketing invasive green crabs. The goal, he suggested, should be to eradicate the invasive species.
But Fuller wouldn’t rule out using the extractor equipment for lobster meat. He thinks more research needs to be done before commercial processors will commit to trying the equipment with lobsters.
According to der Kinderen, green crabs will never be eradicated from Maine waters. And even if they were, he believes other species such as Asian Shore Crabs are lurking, waiting to take their place.
“Although the state of Maine wants to eradicate green crabs, it has not put any funds towards that effort,” he noted. “A much more realistic approach is to find an attractive enough market so that the crabs will be fished heavily, keeping their numbers, and consequent damage, in check.”