Robots are processing snow crab in Newfoundland                      Credit: CBC/Canada

Radio Canada reports that robotic machines that cut and shuck crab have nabbed a U.S. patent and it’s being hailed as a breakthrough in fish processing technology worldwide.

The system, developed by the Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation at St. John’s, operates at lightning speed on snow crab at fish plants in eastern Canada.

In a chamber about the size of a shipping container, a crab goes down a conveyor belt where it’s analyzed by cameras; then, so called ‘pick and place’ robots saw off the legs, sort and package them and off they go. Or, other robots shuck the meat from the crab instead of sending that job to China. 

Bob Verge is the brains behind the crab robots and managing director at CCFI.

 “Our overall goal was to extract the meat. Instead of sending our crab out as sections with the meat in the shell we thought we could attract a higher price if we sold the meat instead”

While the crab cutting robots are designed for snow crab – Eastern Canada is the world’s largest producer – Verge said the machine is adaptable to other crab species and potentially other shellfish.

He added that interest is high, including from international markets who are interested in developing robotic solutions to other fish production problems.  The center has applied for patents in 10 other countries and those are expected to be issued soon.

The robot makers are hoping the system will help solve workforce problems in fish plants that often are located in remote regions where it’s tough to recruit enough workers.

In this case, Verge says, humans will work on more highly skilled machines and computers, and not on the slime line cutting up crab.

“If we are going to attract the young people we need, we need better jobs, not more jobs. We have to offer them a better deal. Already demonstrating this technology to young people, they are very impressed with it. They say this is impressive stuff. I’d like to do this.”