Lobster is one of Canada’s most valuable seafood exports, valued at more than CAD 2.1 billion (€1.4 billion). Around three-quarters of the harvest is traditionally exported to the United States, while Asia has also become an increasingly important buyer of the crustacean in recent years. However, it’s Europe that now offers the most scope for overseas sales growth, thanks to Canada’s new free trade deal with the EU that eliminates tariffs on its lobster sales in the 28 member state markets.
The Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement Implementation Act, or CETA, that started in September last year immediately removed an 8% tariff on live lobster exports into Europe and will phase out tariffs on frozen and processed lobster formats over the next three to five years.
Despite being the world’s biggest seafood consumer, the EU has historically been a relatively modest market for Canadian lobsters. The trade has, nevertheless,experienced significant growth in recent years – rising in value terms from about CAD 88 million (€57.7 million) in 2013 to in excess of CAD 192 million (€125.9 million) in 2016.
Not surprisingly, CETA presents further market opportunities for Canadian producers. It’s also thought it could potentially put rival American shellfish businesses at a disadvantage, but for the time being, it’s too early to determine what the long-term effects of the new arrangements will be on the broader shellfish supply chain.
While Maine is an important source of sustainably-certified lobsters for Pittman Seafoods, most of our lobsters come from the Prince Edward Island (PEI) lobster trap fishery. This fishery has two short catching seasons, with our preference being to source lobsters from the spring season because they tend to have a hard shell and higher meat content.
Both of PEI’s 2017 seasons faced challenges, yet they have been regarded positively – together producing landings of 36.4 million pounds (16,511 tonnes) and a landed value of CAD 226 million (€148.2 million).
The PEI lobster 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. As such, safeguarding the marine environment is a primary objective. In 2014, the fishery achieved Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification. PEI fishers are also restricted to the number of lobster traps they can use and the traps must be equipped with biodegradable panels to eliminate inadvertent capture by lost lobster catching gear.
Further conservation initiatives include the release of all undersize lobsters, and female lobsters bearing eggs as well as those females of optimum breeding sizes. There are also long-term sustainability plans such as lobster buyback programmes that reduce the size of the fleet and fishing effort.
Pittman Seafoods buys lobsters for distribution in Europe, with Benelux, Germany and France providing our main markets. The bulk of the volume has traditionally been supplied to retail chains in these countries, but we also supply foodservice businesses that then sell to the restaurant trade. Some lobster volumes also go to meal manufacturer customers.
Essentially, there are two very different products in our lobster portfolio: Firstly, whole cooked frozen lobster, which is mainly sold to retail as a commodity product and is the most-established and traditional product; the second is ultra-high pressure (UHP) lobster, whereby all of the lobster meat is extracted whole and at once for a top-quality raw product.
We have found that UHP is proving increasingly popular in the foodservice sector. This is largely because UHP lobsters offer professional kitchens a top-quality alternative to live product handling while also avoiding the cost and inherent risks of transporting live lobsters, including mortality and reduced quality due to stress. Moreover, with authorities in Switzerland banning the cooking of live lobsters from March this year, UHP lobsters present chefs with a proven, market-ready solution.