Native to the Atlantic coast of North America, between Newfoundland and North Carolina, the American lobster (Homarus americanus) is one of Canada’s most valuable seafood exports.
Around three-quarters of the lobsters exported from the country are destined for the United States, but the EU and Asia have become increasingly important markets in recent years. Thanks to robust sustainability measures—adhered to by some 10,000 licensed harvesters across Atlantic Canada and Quebec—landings of these prized crustaceans remain at the highest levels recorded in the past century.
The Prince Edward Island (PEI) lobster trap fishery is an important source of lobsters for Pittman Seafoods. This fishery has been exporting its products around the world since the 1870s and is widely regarded as one of Canada’s most iconic lobster fisheries. In turn, the fishery has become increasingly important to the island’s economy with the lobster catch from its estimated 1,200 harvesters exceeding 14,000 tonnes in 2013.
According to the PEI government, in that year, the island exported 7,327 tonnes of lobster valued at CAD 144.2 million (€106.4 million). Overall, it was Canada’s sixth largest exporter of fish and seafood, with total seafood exports valued at CAD 205.2 million (€151.4 million).
Lobster from the fishery is predominantly processed into a variety of raw and cooked frozen products ahead of export, but a portion of landings are also shipped live.
While the island’s fishers strive to grow the industry, safeguarding the marine environment remains a primary objective. As such, there are two lobster seasons in PEI, each lasting only two months. The first (in area 24) opens on 1 May and runs until the end of June, while the second (in area 25) starts on 10 August and closes 10 October.
Lobster fishers are each allowed 300 lobster traps in area 24 and 250 traps in area 25. These traps must be equipped with biodegradable panels to eliminate the potential of so-called “ghost fishing” through lost lobster catching gear.
Other conservation initiatives include the release of all undersize lobsters, female lobsters bearing eggs and females of optimum breeding size (114mm to 126mm). There are also long-term sustainability plans such as lobster buy-back programmes that reduce the size of the fleet and the effort of the fishery.
In November 2014, the PEI lobster trap fishery achieved MSC certification. Accreditation was the result of the combined efforts of PEI Fishermen’s Association, the PEI Seafood Processors Association, the Abegweit First Nation and the Lennox Island First Nation.
MSC said the certification of this fishery was an example of a co-management approach, as participants in the PEI lobster fishery worked with Fisheries and Oceans Canada Gulf Region to attain certification against the standard. The provincial Department of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Rural Development assisted the harvesting and processing groups throughout the assessment.
Be careful: this means there is limited availability of MSC-certified lobster. Pittman will especially have certified lobster from PEI in May and June. But Pittman also sources from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, which are still under assessment.