A new seafood business accelerator program will help self-employed fishers and farmers become more self-sufficient business and community food providers.
The VIU program will provide an intensive four months of training to help 20 small-scale harvesters of fish, shellfish and seaweed find their niches in the global food system, according to a press release from the Island Economic Trust on Monday, Jan. 9.
The program will be led by the Centre for Seafood Innovation at Vancouver Island University in partnership with the B.C. Commercial Fishing Caucus. ICE-T is providing $60,000, about one-third of the project budget.
Many of the estimated 1,900-2,000 small-scale harvesters in the province need to innovate their products to stand apart from international competitors, but lack of business supports and coaching has meant they do not know where or how to start the process, noted the press release. The accelerator program comes at a time when there is growing consumer demand for food system transparency and awareness of supply chain fragility and the importance of supporting local business.
“Small-scale harvesters have huge socio-economic importance in B.C.’s coastal communities and their inability to compete has led to a declining number of harvesters,” said Debra Hellbach, manager of VIU’s Centre for Seafood Innovation, in the release.
She said there is low consumption in Canada, due partly to lack of preparation, knowledge and limited access to Canadian harvest, but there is tremendous opportunity with growth in the seafood sector expected to double over the next 25 years. The program is aimed at enabling entrepreneurs to tap into the growing demand.
Program participants will take part in workshops and webinars focused on food industry training, coaching, business advice and implementation services. During the expert-in-residence portion of the program, the focus will be on product development, marketing and financing and each participant will complete a business plan to present to potential buyers and interested parties, the release noted.
“We are honoured to be part of such a valuable effort that will have profound economic ripple effects in coastal communities and also help establish new business relationships that last well into the future,” said Aaron Stone, ICE-T board chairperson.
The project is expected to get underway shortly, the release noted.