Innovating sustainable bait in the lobster industry: A Q&A with Clare Machine Works

Allison Murray

Published February 04, 2021
in Case Studies

By Allison Murray

In our Atlantic Canadian Clean Economy Case Study Series, we’re talking to business leaders to learn more about the drivers, benefits and challenges that they’ve encountered while adopting sustainable innovation and operations, and sharing lessons in the transition towards a clean economy.

Clare Machine Works, based in south-western Nova Scotia, builds machine-engineered industrial products and solutions that improve the livelihood of the global marine and fisheries sectors.

The company has been working on alternatives to traditional bait for the lobster fishery for over a decade, including a recent partnership with Synergy Seafoods Limited and Université Sainte-Anne. In 2019 they won the $30,000 first prize in a lobster bait challenge organized by rural innovation hub Ignite. They are currently in the process of obtaining intellectual property rights for their suite of better bait products and methods.

“The clean economy has opened up doors for new product development and processes. It’s afforded us the opportunity to talk to our market and to see where we might be able to develop products that would be a part of the clean economy,” says Vince Stuart, President of Clare Machine Works.

Let’s dive into our interview with Vince:

How has growing demand for more sustainable products and the clean economy impacted your business and its competitiveness?

It’s impacted us positively because being a company that does lots of innovation and product development, it’s opened up doors for new product development and processes. It’s afforded us the opportunity to talk to our market and to see where we might be able to open up some avenues and develop products that would be a part of the clean economy.

Our better bait is a big part of that, developing machinery and processes that make better use of products for bait and make more sustainable products for bait possible. But we’re also working on several other projects that have nothing to do with bait and still lean into the idea of fuel savings, resource savings, labor savings. That’s what we do. We have a whole innovation arm and product development arm, and we do that for ourselves but we also provide that service to others who might have ideas that they want to develop.

What prompted you to consider lower-carbon and sustainable innovation for your business?

Innovation has been one of our mantras forever, within product development certainly. When it comes to sustainability and the clean economy, it just so happens that some of the products we’re developing and working on fall into that category.

Outside of the bait products, if you look at even our trap stacker, for instance, we’re finding savings of two to three hours of fishing time per day, per fishermen. So if you do the math, that’s fuel savings, energy savings, human energy savings.

I can’t say that all the new talk about the clean economy and energy savings prompted us to develop products. We’re prompted to develop products regardless. But it’s a natural progression. Everybody’s trying to save money where they can, and you save money by being more competitive and you save money by burning less fuel.

What benefits has your business gained so far?

The first benefit has been the government support that’s available to initiatives in this realm. That’s been helpful because small companies, like us, couldn’t go out and spend all the money that’s required without that support.

A perceived benefit for us at this time is our intellectual property. We see that if we have intellectual property gain, then we’re a step ahead of others and then we can commercialize it and move forward that way. In six or eight months, we might be able to say that financially it was a huge benefit, but at this point the IP gain is our main benefit.

What challenges have you encountered while developing or transitioning your products and operations?

A huge challenge has been customer acceptance of new products. Everybody seems to be afraid of change or aren’t interested in change unless there’s an instant perceived benefit. We’ve been working on better bait, in one way or another, for 10 to 12 years. We’ve learned that, in our world anyway, there’s no instant perceived benefit.

It’s a commitment for your customer to use your product as opposed to the product they’re used to, whatever their grandfather and father and uncles used. So finding early adopters and ones more accepting to change has been a challenge.

Then there’s technical challenges as well, especially when it comes to machine development, with efficiencies and affordability of your product. It’s a challenge to make it work economically for your customer.

What advice can you offer to fellow Atlantic Canadian companies interested in transitioning to more sustainable products and operations?

Do your research. Talk to your market and see where the deficiencies are and see if you’re going down the right path. Your relationship with your market and your customers is the most important part.

What are some remaining policy obstacles that your industry faces in transitioning towards the clean economy?

There’s not a whole lot of policy for our industry that I’m aware of. There are different certifications that our industry can achieve for adhering to greener practices and recent funding programs such as the Atlantic Fisheries Fund, but there is maybe a lack of policy around encouraging industry to transition. I think policies where there would be a net gain to my industry to use, develop and try out greener practices would help.