ORONO - A new study is looking at ways to use lobster shells to create a cheaper, more natural pigment used in food for farm raised salmon, to give them that healthy pink color we expect. But according to the University of Maine researcher leading the study, the findings could mean so much more, with a potential to create a new state industry.
More lobsters are being processed in state, and University of Maine graduate researcher, Beth Fulton, says this means more lobster shells are going to waste.
"This is a large volume of material that has no value, aside from composting which is done on a minimal scale," said Fulton.
So, the Lee, New Hampshire native is determined to put these shells to good use by researching ways to extract a useful pigment found in the shells. It's called Astaxanthin. Fulton says it's a type of pigment that could potentially replace artificial food color in common food products like farmed salmon feeds, but they need to test the fish to prove it.
"I thought that it was a very valuable product, and it occurred to me that in order to show that this is a really good product, you would have to conduct a trial with salmon, or in this case trout, which is a smaller animal with a similar metabolism that can be raised on campus."
She says it could also increase the value of whole lobsters.
The project is still in its early stages. Fulton started from scratch in terms of funding, but already she's laid the groundwork for this study to move forward.
"It'll be really nice to see students coming in with funding which is something that I didn't have. That will be my gift to them."