Canadian airports add flights to accommodate more lobster shipments

Published on
September 10, 2018

Thanks to the protectionist trade policies of U.S. President Donald Trump, Canada’s lobster industry is “winning.”

As the United States has continued pressure China with increasing tariffs, China has responded by ceasing its purchases of lobster from the U.S., shifting instead towards purchasing from Canada.

Reports are trickling north across the border of China abandoning long-time supply sources and relationships with U.S.-based lobster companies.

“I have heard from colleagues in Maine that their business in China has dried up completely, but do not have any independent data to back that up,” Geoff Irvine, executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada, told SeafoodSource.

Exports of live lobsters to China from Maine plummeted in July, the same month China imposed 25 percent retaliatory tariffs against the United States in an escalating trade war between the two economic superpowers.

According to the Portland Press Herald, the value of live lobsters exported from Maine dropped 64 percent in July 2018 from July 2017. At least one company, The Lobster Co. of Arundel, Maine, has laid off a quarter of its staff in response to losing business in China, according to WGME.

Perhaps equally telling is the sudden rise in lobster shipments from the Canadian Maritimes. In the past 12 months, Halifax’s Stanfield International Airport has gone from having one to five weekly seafood air shipments to Asia. That represents a 63 percent rise in lobster shipments year-over-year.

Halifax has long had a weekly Air Korea 747 cargo flight servicing its airport. In 2017, Chinese cargo carrier Suparna Airlines began a second service to Halifax. And in August 2018, these services were supplemented with the addition of two weekly flights from Halifax to Changsha, Hunan Province, China. The new flights utilize 747-400 freighters operated by SkyLease Cargo, which service First Catch, a Chinese-owned seafood freight-forwarding company based at YHZ. Each 747 is capable of carrying 120 metric tons of seafood to China. 

In addition to the dedicated cargo carriers, Kevin Mio, a communications manager with Air Canada, said his company operates a daily Airbus 330-300 flight from Halifax to Montreal capable of carrying more than 20,000 kilograms of seafood. Mio said Air Canada Cargo operates on belly capacity only – “Which can be significant,” he said.

“On a large airplane, 75 percent of the space in the belly is taken by cargo as opposed to baggage,” Mio said.

Mio said the U.S.-China trade war has created a “void” in lobster supply to the hungry Chinese market.

“The tariff wars between the United States and China have affected demand for American lobster,” he said. “As a result, Canadian lobster is trying to step in and fill this void. To get all of this seafood to market, we have seen an increase in freighter activities in the Maritimes – most of them going to China.” 

The lobster largesse has extended to Greater Moncton’s Romeo LeBlanc International Airport in New Brunswick. While it has also forwarded some lobster on an irregular basis – primarily for the holiday season and other special periods – through airports in Montreal and Toronto using Cargojet, its service was boosted this August when Kalitta Air began flying a 747-400 directly from Moncton to Asia. This service operates on a short-lead monthly schedule and is flexible enough to allow the addition of extra flights as needed.

Moncton’s airport may see further growth in the future, if the trade war drags on. It is a short drive from the lobster grounds of the Northumberland Strait and upper Bay of Fundy, and across the Confederation Bridge for Island shippers. An additional amenity for shippers is a large cold-storage facility next to the airport.

Reporting from Eastern Canada

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