Giving new life to live shellfish

Published on
July 6, 2010

The new Aquaport facility in Urk, the Netherlands, which claims to be the first of its kind in the world, is now fully functional, and shipments of live lobster from Halifax, Canada, are arriving there by sea on a weekly basis. The lobsters are shipped in a state of semi-hibernation in specially designed tanks.

The British lobster company Homarus Atlantic Ltd. has contracted to take delivery of 100 container shipments of lobster from the aquaport this year, with the intention to book another 150 shipments in 2011. The deal effectively takes up all the current transport capacity between the two centers.

Homarus Atlantic is selling the lobsters to clients in France who want to stop buying air-freighted products “in order to enhance their environmental profile.” According to the company, many leading French retailers no longer carry products transported by air because of environmental concerns. (From 2011, every fresh food product sold in France will have to be labeled with its carbon footprint.)

Homarus Atlantic Managing Director Jean-Marc Stephan said that his company has been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the lobsters, and “our clients in France are over the moon.” Mortality levels during transport are well below 1 percent, and the lobsters are very strong, he added.

When transporting live lobsters by sea between Europe and Canada was trialed about a year ago, it was reported that ocean freight was about 30 times more friendly than sending them by air, which had been the normal method up until then.

Speaking at the time that the trial shipments were made, Lars Nannerup, CEO of Aqualife A/S of Denmark, which developed the live shellfish storage and transport system, said that carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by 15 tons per ocean freight container compared with sending lobsters by air. However, perhaps more significantly in these financially straightened times, the cost of shipping live lobsters by sea is about half the price of air freight, he said.

The Aquaport facility in Urk, which, despite being landlocked, has a fish auction, is equipped with state-of-the-art water purification technologies that eliminate the risk of spreading disease and prohibit the invasion of foreign species, according to Aqualife. It is a fully integrated holding system and is capable of receiving up to 25 Aqualife containers per week and holding 50 tons of live shellfish.

However, Aqualife is keen to expand its network and more aquaports are planned for North America, plus other shellfish apart from lobster will be transported — mollusks such as clams, oysters and mussels are being considered.

“There is no doubt that we will be able to support North American aquaculture producers,” said Gordon Neal, CEO of Aqualife North America. “We offer a unique solution where we can bridge remote production resources with major urban markets within the fresh and live seafood segment without compromising environmental standards.”

However, perhaps the biggest potential for transporting live shellfish by sea is seen as Asia, where bivalve species such as mussels and clams are a mainstream business. “The big potential for this technology is bivalve shellfish,” said Nannerup. “I hope that we will be able to establish a shipping station in Asia next year.”

To regurgitate a hackneyed phrase, the world could now be Aqualife’s oyster. But, seriously, any technology that can cut down on the carbon footprint incurred by transporting live shellfish is to be welcomed.

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