Coming to life
Live lobsters from Nova Scotia are now being shipped by sea to Urk, a Dutch fish auction. The first consignment, consisting of 5 metric tons of product, arrived in the Netherlands in June, and there have been weekly shipments ever since. In fact, all capacity on the Halifax-Urk route is sold out through April 2010, according to Aqualife Logistics, the Danish company that developed the live shellfish storage and transportation system.
The live lobsters, which are being sold in Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark - France, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom come next - will be followed by live oysters and other, less expensive bivalves.
"This is where we see really big potential, since we will be introducing new species to the European market," said Aqualife CEO Lars Nannerup.
Not all the species will be new to Europe. A spokeswoman with the Canadian High Commission in London said the Aqualife system could increase European imports of Canadian mussels.
"Quite small volumes [of mussels] currently come into Europe from Canada, but the new Aqualife container shipments will hopefully make them more competitive because of the lower freight cost," she said.
And here is the main reason for all the optimism surrounding the new system. According to Nannerup, the cost of shipping lobsters by sea is "about half the price of airfreight." It is also 30 times more environmentally friendly than sending the lobsters by air, and he believes that this will appeal to a significant sector of the population.
"By replacing airfreight with ocean freight, carbon dioxide emissions are reduced by 15 [metric] tons per container," said Nannerup. "European consumers are increasingly reluctant to buy products with high carbon footprints, so this is a message we want the European trade and consumers to be aware of, and it leans well on the ‘green positioning' that Canadian products truly deserve.'
Strip out the PR speak, and Nannerup has a valid point. European consumers are increasingly concerned about environmental issues, and opinion is turning against food products airfreighted over long distances. Also, there's now a preference, certainly in the UK, for products sourced locally. So shellfish from Canada, however transported, that can also be caught in European waters may not be as popular as Aqualife is hoping.
However, there could well be huge potential for Canadian species "new" to the European market. Who would have foreseen that greenshell mussels from New Zealand would be commonplace in retail outlets and on restaurant menus in Europe? Now they're regularly sold alongside native blue mussel.
Only time will tell if live Canadian shellfish enjoy a similar fate.