The company, called D&H Labs, launched its oil as a finished product called MassOMEGA earlier this year, though the company says it is also potentially interested in acting as an ingredient supplier. The product is the brainchild of entrepreneur Stephen Daly, who was casting about for a business opportunity with a partner after a career in the tech industry.
“My business partner and I were looking at first for a low cost source of protein we could turn into a high quality dog food. We looked at some of the local fisheries and found that some of the fish landed in New England were selling for as little as 19 cents a pound for whole fish,” Daly told NutraIngredients-USA.
High quality livers
Daly said the pair became interested in the winter skate fishery in particular. Winter skate (Leucoraja oceallata) is a small to medium sized bottom dwelling member of the ray family that is native to the waters off of southern New England. This is a very small scale fishery, Daly said, more of a cottage industry. The fishery consists of small boats in the 30-foot to 40-foot range operated by family fishermen. When the fish are rough processed on the boat, the fisherman were in the habit of cutting off the ‘wings’ of the fish where almost all of the flesh is, and throwing the rest of carcass overboard. But looking at what was being discarded, Daly said he and his partner had an epiphany.
“We saw that some of these fish in these small scale fisheries had very large livers. We’d first looked at dogfish (a small, numerous member of the shark family), but the fatty acid profile of their livers wasn’t all that interesting. The economics of that weren’t that good, but as we continued to test the species, we found that the fatty acid profile of the winter skate livers was amazing,” Daly said.
Small scale plant
Daly said it was about a two-year process to set up a small production plant in Massachusetts to process the livers into supplement-grade oil. The resulting ingredient naturally comes in at a higher DHA and EPA concentration than the industry standard 18:12 oils, he said. The business partners purchased oil processing equipment and set it up in a leased space, and included industry-standard processing steps such as a nitrogen bath to control oxidation. They also had to set up a collection system for the livers, which was done in cooperation with the fishermen themselves.
“We had a lot of cooperation from the fishermen at Chatham, on Cape Cod,” Daly said.“These are tough guys. Even though the species is named ‘winter skate’it’s not really a seasonal fishery; they fish for winter skate up to 10 months in a year. In the middle of winter they’ll go 70 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard in the open ocean to get these fish.”
Supporting local fishermen
Daly said the ‘story’ of the ingredient builds upon this local connection. It’s a US-made and sourced ingredient, one that puts money back into local communities. No fisherman will get rich harvesting livers for MassOMEGA, Daly admitted, but he said they can get more money now for each fish landed, and the difference might pay the fuel bill for a trip.
Daly said the fishery extends from ports in eastern Connecticut up to southern Maine. So, while it will never come close to rivaling larger sources of fish oil omega-3s such as Peruvian anchovies, Alaskan pollock or menhaden, Daly said there is still plenty of room for the supply to grow. Right now the finished product is being sold in a number of smaller health food stores in New England.
Daly said the small scale of the fishery, devoid of large, high powered factory fishing vessels, means it is sustainable, though it is too tiny to warrant the expense of MSC certification. He did say that winter skate as been classified as a “Good Alternative” fish species by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which assesses the sustainability of market fish sources.