Positive Impact of New Technology on North Atlantic Cod Fishery

More than ever, our groundfish industry needs to evaluate strategies to maximize the value it receives from a limited Northern cod resource with the goal of providing timely and high-quality product to the market.

The latest Fisheries and Oceans stock assessment indicates Northern cod (Gadus morhua) stocks in NAFO Divisions 2J3KL have declined recently and at a recent Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation (CCFI) workshop, it was also suggested that a significant commercial fishery is potentially still a decade away.

Two primary challenges to maximizing the value of our groundfish industry are:

  • Our peak fishing season (Victoria Day to Labour Day) is not in sync with peak consumer demand (Lent, typically February-April).
  • Newfoundland is plagued by intense weather (wind, fog, precipitation), especially during the winter. As a result, commercial transportation from Newfoundland can be unreliable and this makes it challenging to ship fresh fish, with a limited shelf life, to our primary markets.

Therefore, until these challenges can be successfully resolved, Newfoundland and Labrador processors expect to primarily supply frozen cod to the market. This in turn leads to another challenge, the price paid for frozen fillets is approximately half the price paid for fresh fish, according to industry data.

Figure 1: Frozen cod thawing in Coolnova® chamber

To help solve challenges faced from freezing cod fillets, Coolnova® is a patented technology that offers freezing and thawing solutions for foods using nano and micro droplets of water vapour produced without boiling. Coolnova® claims that this technology will maintain and protect the original fresh frozen quality, taste, smell and appearance of seafood upon thawing, with no drip loss, dehydration or oxidation of the product.

To verify the claims made by Coolnova®, the Centre for Aquaculture and Seafood Development (CASD) purchased a demonstration model 60/80 in December 2015 with the support of the CCFI and partnered with Quinlan Brothers Ltd. and the provincial Department of Fisheries and Land Resources to assess the quality of product thawed using the chamber.

A test plan was developed by CASD and carried out by the author, Dwayne Moores, Ray Hayter, Brian Gillet, Sheila Trenholm, Marsha Clarke, Michelle Thompson and the client representative, Chris Daley of IDG Fisheries Consulting.

Initial tests were completed using headed and gutted codfish to calibrate CASD’s unit with vendor recommendations. Following that, 10-pound shatter packs of frozen cod fillets were placed in the Coolnova® chamber and thawed. Thermocouples were inserted into random fillets to track the thawing process and to assist CASD technical staff with developing thawing recipes and best practices.

Test results were promising as refreshed cod fillets produced by the Coolnova® chamber were consistent with fresh fillets (Figure 2) in taste, texture, odour, moisture content and colour. However, within a few hours, drip began to occur and within 24 hours, the refreshed product was consistent with traditionally thawed fillets.

Figure 2: Comparison of fresh cod fillets and frozen cod fillets thawed using Coolnova®

This is still a positive result, as it shows that frozen fillets thawed using Coolnova® technology can compete with fresh in the short term and both Quinlan Brothers and the CASD technical team see merit with this process. Further study of this process is necessary to meet the challenges of increasing the time before drip begins and decreasing the rate of drip and these are two of the goals of the author’s doctoral research.

Use of this technology has the potential to benefit the fishing industry in Newfoundland and Labrador considerably. It may allow processors to supply fillets as a “chilled refresh” product at prices closer to the fresh price for cod.

The author wishes to thank the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources, Quinlan Brothers Ltd. and the CCFI for their financial support of this project.

By Pete Brown
Centre for Aquaculture and Seafood Development

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