BANGOR, Maine — With a loud beep and a whooshing intake of air, a roomful of Maine seafood processor representatives got an up-close look Wednesday at a machine intended to address several problems the industry faces.

The device, about the size of a dormitory room refrigerator, was brought to Maine this week along with representatives from Xifuri, the Chinese firm that developed it, as a possible solution to Maine’s green crab problem. The invasive crustaceans have wreaked havoc on Maine’s shallow clam flats during the past few years — some more than others — by destroying softshell clam populations and upsetting the balance of the state’s coastal habitat.

Fisheries officials in Maine and Canada, where the crabs also pose a problem, have been looking for ways to incentivize their harvest by creating markets for them. A big hurdle has been trying to find an effective way to process the creatures, which are smaller than Jonah or rock crabs and pose a more complicated meat extraction challenge.

But industry officials who gathered Wednesday at the Oriental Jade restaurant for the demonstration seemed more interested in the device’s potential impact on a different species: lobster.

Lobster is a billion dollar industry in Maine, which generates hundreds of millions of dollars in gross revenue for Maine fishermen and hundreds of millions more for dealers and processors who package it and ship it around the globe. But according to lobster processing officials at Wednesday’s demonstration, more than half the raw product that comes through their doors ends up as waste and is sold for a pittance as compost.

Through an interpreter, Zhou Peng Fei, head of Xifuri, told attendees that one worker using the machine could extract about four pounds of hard-to-reach lobster meat from the shell in an hour. He said with his crab-processing operations in China, his firm is developing techniques and products that have the potential to eliminate nearly all disposable waste.

Representatives of lobster-processing companies did not appear to be convinced Zhou’s machine could convert their waste into a profit, but they said the type of technological research and development Xifuri is investing in is exactly what their industry needs.

Spencer Fuller of Portland-based Cozy Harbor Seafood said that for years the company has been looking for new lobster products to invest in and for ways to reduce its waste.

“We’re always looking at it,” Fuller said. “The ultimate goal is to get everything back out of [the lobster]. [Zhou’s device] is a step in the right direction.”

John Hathaway of Shucks Maine Lobster in Richmond said improving meat extraction techniques and finding a way to extract chitin — a fibrous substance that has industrial, biomedical and food-processing applications — from the shell are becoming top priorities in his industry. He said that is why he was supportive of a bond question on the statewide ballot earlier this month aimed at raising $7 million to help develop new products and markets for Maine’s seafood sector.

“I’m convinced it will be the next big thing [in lobster processing],” Hathaway said.

Dave Fitzgerald of Gloucester Seafood Processing was even more emphatic. He said the amount of technological research and investment in Maine’s lobster industry has been sorely lacking. Finding new products and reducing waste are critical for the industry’s future, he added.

“It’s an absolute need, not a desire,” Fitzgerald said.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: