Following years of studying and just talking about issues facing the huge but fragmented Canadian lobster industry, representatives took a giant leap forward for their fishery recently as they agreed to start work on two important initiatives.
The agreement was reached during meetings held in early October in Cheticamp, Nova Scotia when the Lobster Council of Canada (LCC), in conjunction with industry leaders from the four Atlantic Provinces and Quebec, agreed to begin work on establishing a quality standard system and a branding program for Canadian lobster.
Geoff Irvine, the Executive Director of the LCC, said that some exciting changes are coming for the lobster industry.
Irvine said, “After two to three years of talking and working together, lobster representatives have reached a consensus on modernizing the industry by establishing a quality standard system and a branding program.
“The lobster fishery is probably the last fishery in Canada to have any sort of verifiable quality standards, so we expect to catch up with the other fisheries in this key area.
“The lack of quality standards in the lobster industry results in consumers who are uncertain of the quality of the product they are paying for who therefore pay lower prices.
“It’s also meant to reward good quality and to provide the entire industry with a consistent standard system.”
Delegates at the Cheticam meetings were also unanimous in their support of the establishment of a Canadian lobster brand. The brand would be supported by a strong industry structure based on brand pillars such as sustainability, pristine environment and quality that could be promoted and supported by the lobster sector.
Irvine said that the branding of Canadian lobster would be extremely important for the industry’s European and Far Eastern markets.
“People say that Canadian lobster is fantastic, so this is all about building on that foundation and setting up quality standards so that when our shippers and processors are out there selling our lobsters they can feel good about what’s in the box,” Irvine said.
“This is also about competing with other brands such as Maine lobster for the sell of a protein rich product. We really need to formalize a branding program for our product and to get the industry to realize that this is an important step moving forward.
“We haven’t been consistent in doing this in that past and this is something we need to improve on.”
Irvine said that he is very encouraged by the Cheticamp agreement as it will be very important for the approximately 950 harvesters in Atlantic Canada and Quebec and everyone else involved in the industry.
He said, “This is a big step forward as we are actually agreeing that these are a couple of things we can sink our teeth into. These are long-term solutions to this industry that has no short-term fixes.
“We will be holding meetings with harvesters and we will be pushing this message out through the media. This will need a big commitment from all stakeholders to be successful but it’s important for everyone as a Canadian lobster sector that is branded and quality based will lead to better pricing.”
The Lobster Council will also work closely with Federal and Provincial governments to align government policy with lobster industry priorities.
Mildred Skinner, an official with the FFAW/CAW in Newfoundland, said that there are many people connected with the Atlantic and Quebec lobster fishery that are trying to improve the industry for all stakeholders.
Skinner said, “We need to get a quality product into the European and Far Eastern markets. This industry needs more structure to do that in a large way.
“We need to develop our own brand for Atlantic Canadian lobster and put in some type of program to address the quality of our product.
“In Newfoundland, we fish lobster before the molting season which occurs in July. However, harvesters fish lobster during the molting season in some parts of Atlantic Canada and this leads to an inferior product.
“If we’re going to get into newer markets, we will need the quality product that consumers are demanding today.”
Skinner said that even though Newfoundland harvesters are a part of the Lobster Council of Canada, there’s no reason why harvesters here can’t promote their own product and their own branding.
“For us in Newfoundland our goal in moving forward is to find a way to market our own product caught in the pristine waters of this province.
We can still be a part of the LCC but move our product forward with some of our own initiatives.
“We’ll be trying to move this idea forward with our own co-op that was started last season. There’s lot of work to do in this, and other areas, but some of the process was started last year. It will be slow going but there’s a lot of buyers, shippers and good processors who are trying to move this industry into the future,” Skinner said.