SUMMERSIDE - "Mmmmm, green crab."
You can almost hear Homer Simpson's voice in the back of your mind when Sophie St-Hilaire, talks about the pilot project she's been working on.
St-Hilaire, an associate professor at UPEI's Atlantic Veterinary College, is part of a group trying to determine whether green crabs could be used as fishmeal.
It's all about trying to control the population; green crabs are an aggressive and invasive species that have invaded Island bays and rivers - pushing out the native rock crabs and predating on valuable shellfish species like oysters.
St-Hilaire gave an update on the project during the annual Shellfish Association of P.E.I. meeting in Summerside this week.
She told the gathered fishermen that while her group's study, which was funded by Innovation P.E.I., started out looking at turning green crabs into fishfood, it eventually realized that there could be a market for green crab meat for human consumption.
The processors that dealt with the project were very interested in taking a second look at the species, said St-Hilaire.
"They looked at the product and they were like 'this is similar to what we get for other products, so we might be able to market this as a human food product.' We liked that option because it helps with the market and helps with the feasibility," she said.
Based on an economic model the project developed, fishermen could get somewhere between 25 and 30 cents per pound of green crab, whereas fertilizer and fishmeal products would only land fishermen between five and 10 cents a pound.
So are there that many green crabs in Island waters?
According to St-Hilaire, yes - very much so.
"Just based on the data that we collated from different groups - we're estimating that we could fish 50 tonnes a year. And that might be an underestimation, I was pretty conservative," she said.
Nobody will get rich fishing these things, she added, but that's not the point.
The point is to kill as many green crabs as possible.
"This isn't something that you want a sustainable fishery on. It's a harvest. That's why I'm saying 'look at this as a harvest where you're doing cost recovery. So the (fisherman) gets paid for his time,'" she said.
"Think about it; you can't pay to have these things controlled because you've got budget cuts everywhere. So let the market pay for it."
It sounds good in theory, said St - Hilaire, the problem is navigating bureaucratic red tape to the point where fishermen would be allowed to set traps specifically for green crab.
There are currently nuisance species licences available for green crab, but fish caught under this permit can't be sold and must be destroyed.
There are accidental catch licences available, and these fish (which are caught as a byproduct) can be sold, however, fishermen wouldn't be able to catch enough of the crabs that way.
"It doesn't fit anywhere in the permits. So they have to reassess," said St-Hilaire.
Realistically, it could be a while before P.E.I. is in a position to introduce some type of green crab harvesting permit, she added.
In the meantime, her group is applying for funding again this year, this time to study the prospect of a green crab product for human use more closely.
"It's fine for someone to say 'hey, I think I could sell this.' But then to actually do it," she said before letting the thought trail off.