Finding and Embracing Unlikely Alternatives: Piloting a jellyfish fishery in Atlantic Canada

by Justin Cantafio. April Fool’s!

The Ecology Action Centre (EAC) has been working closely with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the Nova Scotia government, local fishing organizations, processors, retail outlets, and restaurateurs to spearhead a new jellyfish fishery that they hope will bring much needed economic stimulation to Nova Scotia’s coastal communities. Harpooned jellyfish will be the first such fishery in Canada. While harpooning is an ancient and effective fishing method in many countries and with many species, this will be the first time this technique will be used to harvest jellyfish.

“Harpooning is an environmentally sustainable fishing technique with virtually no by-catch” says Justin Cantafio, Sustainable Fisheries Campaigner with the EAC. “We experimented with other gear types, but this seems to be the best match.  We initially liked the sound of ‘trap-caught jellyfish’, but the traps got clogged up and the salmon feed we used for bait was too expensive” he said.  “We tried diver-caught jellyfish, but we had some entanglement issues. We also tried hook-and-line but had trouble finding hooks small enough for zooplankton, their preferred prey. Hand-harvested jellyfish was quickly rejected, as the volunteer harvesters had tender hands and complained of multiple stings so the pilot fishery was abandoned.”  According to Cantafio, the actual design of the jellyfish harpoons is still being finalized as there are some issues with the design of the tip, which had a tendency to pull out. “We’re working with a team of engineers at Dal who have come up with a prototype that looks promising. It sort of looks like a cocktail umbrella” he said.

Lion’s mane jellyfish – thanks to the Ecology Action Centre, these critters could soon be on the menu. (Wikimedia Commons/Brian Gratwicke)

“In order to fish sustainably and to support our coastal communities, we need to seek out and support low volume, high value fisheries, “ added Dave Adler, manager of Off the Hook Community Supported Fishery. “The harpooned jellyfish fishery is a perfect example of this.”

“Nova Scotia has a rich fishing history, but sadly many commercial fisheries have been fished down significantly. Luckily, there are so many species we’re only just starting to learn to love in this province” says Adler. “We’ve had recent success with sea urchins and sea cucumbers, but nobody around here was looking at jellyfish. What an opportunity!”

Nova Scotians can expect to see the first proposed value-added product from the fishery in the form of harpooned jellyfish jelly, already wildly popular in countries abroad. Restaurant owners are excited to incorporate it into their local-oriented menus, complete with Taste of Nova Scotia certification, by the fall of 2015..With the fishery set to open in the early summer of this year, and several companies already expressing interest in creating value-added products from the new regional bounty, Cantafio says that Nova Scotians can expect to see products such as “Taste of Nova Scotia” harpooned jellyfish jelly in select retail outlets and restaurants throughout the province by the end of the summer.

Maritimers do love their jelly! (Wikimedia Commons/Dennis Jarvis)

The EAC marine program was interested in exploring ‘underloved’ seafood in the province as a way of helping historically vibrant but now dwindling coastal communities get back on their feet. Learning to love the seafood in our own backyard took a bit of imagination. “We toyed with a few species, but the same one kept coming up—the lion’s mane jellyfish”. Cantafio says that lion’s mane jellies, or Cyanea capillata, are frequently found washed up on Nova Scotian shores. “The beautiful thing about lion’s manes is that they’re incredibly bountiful in our waters.”

Mmmm… delectable (Wikimedia Commons/Biriwilg)

And that’s not all; Cantafio holds that the jellies are rather delectable. “They get a bad rap around the beaches here because of their sting, but once the stingers are removed and the jelly is processed, they are absolutely delicious,” says Cantafio. “A bit like a strong marmalade, but with a hint of salt. The jelly pairs so nicely with crackers and old cheddar.”

Local fishermen have been lining up by the dozen at DFO offices to get their hands on the new licenses, which become operational in June. A total of 10,000 tonnes in harpooned jellyfish quota has been set aside for the new fishery. With over 70 of a possible 100 licenses already claimed by fishermen around the province, the inaugural harvest this summer should bode well for the provincial economy, and for adventurous food connoisseurs.

As a long-time advocate for celebrating the diversity and abundance of food that nature offers us, Justin brings to the EAC extensive in-field experience handling exotic plants and animals from land and sea. When not sipping a fine glass of single malt scotch whiskey, Justin enjoys creating high quality jams, terrines, and preserves out of underappreciated flora and fauna for his side project, Justin’s Jazzy Jamz.


2 thoughts on “Finding and Embracing Unlikely Alternatives: Piloting a jellyfish fishery in Atlantic Canada

  1. I have eaten pickled jellyfish at a Chinese restaurant and it was palatable. Perhaps this fishery should be explored rather than being laughed off. If ocean acidification is going to bring us jellyfish at the expense of other species, we’d better start adapting our palates now.

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