A lobster statue on top of a rock

A community collaboration to create sustainable lobster fishing

UMass food science and environmental conservation researchers team up with Massachusetts fishing communities to develop sustainable alternative bait for lobster trapping 

September 25, 2020

A collaboration of seafood processing firms, lobstermen and others in the Gloucester area, with fish ecologists and food science researchers on campus, have launched a new socio-economic study to look at developing and evaluating a sustainable alternative bait for use in the Gulf of Maine lobster fishery, says study director Adrian Jordaan, environmental conservation


Jordaan, who is director of the Gloucester Marine Station (GMS), will lead the collaboration between the departments of food science and environmental conservation in research that grew out of cooperation between stakeholders in the Gloucester area and the campus’s marine station there. The work is supported by a two-year, $450,000 grant as part of the 2020 Sea Grant American Lobster Initiative. 

Among the goals, Jordaan says, are to reduce the waste stream created by seafood processing. He will work with food scientist Amanda Kinchla and fish ecologists Brian Cheng and Jynessa Dutka-Gianelli. They will partner with the Massachusetts Lobsterman’s Association, Neptune’s Harvest and MassFisheries on the study. 

Dutka-Gianelli says, “We have been able to leverage relationships between the Gloucester Marine Station and industry, developed over time and with help from funding from the Seaport Economic Council, allowing us to explore economic growth opportunities for the Massachusetts fishing communities and seafood industry.” 

“Being embedded in the Gloucester community has helped to develop and strengthen relationships and engage with key partners in this study, such as the local lobstermen, the city of Gloucester Fisheries Commission, the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, and the Neptune’s Harvest. We developed this project as a model of what we would like to continue to do in the future,” she adds. 

The researchers point out that nearly 30% of fish byproducts such as skin and bones create significant challenges for the seafood industry and the environment. Despite strict disposal rules, many coastal communities and businesses struggle with seafood waste disposal. 

Jordaan says, “Ideally, waste could be diverted to be a value-added product, rather than to disposal. One successful product has been fish-based fertilizer, Neptune’s Harvest. We propose that a need for bait alternatives in trap fisheries and the need for a local source provides an ideal niche for fish-waste-based product.” 

The scientists say that by developing a sustainable alternative bait, they can address the waste stream created by seafood processing, plus a number of other concerns. The Gulf of Maine American lobster fishery supports the most valuable fishery in North America, Jordaan and colleagues report – the value of lobsters landed in 2016 was more than $670 million, 93% from Maine and Massachusetts. 

But trap fisheries require bait, which creates a market for smaller forage fish. Harvesting forage fish has come under increasing scrutiny because it often negatively affects ecosystems and other fisheries. Also, the forage fish market often sees price instability as regulations tighten. The bait problem has led to use of imported fish carcasses that risk introducing diseases in aquatic organisms that may also endanger marine ecosystem health, the investigators explain. 

They hope to overcome several challenges to develop a long-lasting, locally sourced alternative bait that is low-cost, environmentally friendly, without risk to human consumption, appropriate capture selectiveness and efficiency, easily stored and useful to commercial fisheries. Jordaan and colleagues say that to succeed, they must engage commercial fishers, processors and regulators in demonstrating feasibility and viability. 

They plan to engage local interests early, maintain open engagement with local fishers, build relationships and promote consistent feedback to the scientists. 

Jordaan says he expects the campus to host a food science practicum course to be designed by food product development expert and collaborator Amanda Kinchla, where food science student teams will develop bait alternative prototypes using gurry, a fish processing waste product to be provided industry partners. These projects will address bait parameters, sourcing ingredients, product formulations, raw material sources and costs, ingredient statements and calculating nutrition facts. 

Kinchla notes “I am excited to be a part of this interdisciplinary collaboration because it is a chance for me to challenge our student’s food science skills in an application that is a real-world challenge. This project allows our team to apply the product development process and fundamental knowledge of food science in a totally different application to help further our food supply in a sustainable way.” 

The team plans to test alternative baits by trapping lobsters in three experimental plots in waters off the Gloucester Marine Station. They also intend to investigate lobster harvesters’ perceptions and motivations about switching to alternative bait. 

Read on: 

An Alternative Bait in the Gulf of Maine Lobster Fishery

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