First US shellfish-focused trade mission to Europe planned for September

An oyster farmer in Massachusetts surveys a harvest.

Food Export Northeast, a nonprofit organization aimed at assisting companies in the Northeast United States with building up their export markets, is leading a trade mission to Europe for shellfish growers.

The mission, according to Food Export Northeast, will consist of visits to Yerske, The Netherlands and Paris, France in September. The goal is to expand the market for U.S. shellfish growers hoping to export live shellfish.

The trade mission itself is possible thanks to relatively recent developments in the ability for two U.S. states to ship live shellfish to the European Union. After over a decade of work, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration finalized an “equivalence determination” finding that the E.U. countries of the Netherlands and Spain can ship live shellfish to the U.S. Soon after, the E.U. established similar new rules, clearing the U.S. states of Massachusetts and Washington to send live shellfish to countries in the E.U.

The first live shipments of shellfish have already been exchanged. In March, the Dutch Fish Federation celebrated the new trade destination during the 2022 Seafood Expo North America with a tasting of oysters from the Netherlands.

“It’s a long, dusty road,” Kamperland, The Netherlands-based Seafarm B.V. Founder and Owner Dave Bout told SeafoodSource at the show.

Now, Food Export Northeast Seafood Program Coordinator Colleen Coyne told SeafoodSource, the organization hopes to expand markets in Europe for its members in the U.S.

“To the best of our knowledge, there haven’t been any other shellfish trade missions yet,” Coyne said.

Food Export Northeast represents 10 states throughout the Northeast U.S., from Maine to Delaware. All states are invited to participate in the trade mission, Coyne said, even though Massachusetts is currently the only state in the region approved to send shellfish to the E.U.

“We’re hoping that different states will become approved soon, but we wanted to take advantage of having at least one state being approved,” Coyne said. “We’ve also invited companies from throughout the region, as it’s an opportunity to learn and get advanced intel before the states are approved, and hopefully they can hit the ground running when that happens.”

In addition to getting intel on buyers, harvesters and growers can learn farming techniques from their European counterparts, Food Export Northeast International Marketing Program Manager Andrew Haught told SeafoodSource.

“The U.S. harvesters are going to want to see the differences in the Netherlands and see the differences in how harvesting is done,” he said.

Interest in expanding the U.S. oyster market, and demand for oysters, is definitely there, according to Coyne. Companies have already been looking into developing more sales to the E.U., partially because the industry in the U.S. Northeast has increased so rapidly, she said.

“It has doubled over the past five years, and it’s on track to double again, which means that the industry could use finding additional markets for their products,” Coyne said.

Oyster landings and production in Massachusetts were worth USD 9.1 million (EUR 8.6 million) in 2010. By 2019, it more than tripled to USD 30.1 million (EUR 28.5 million). Other states in the U.S. Northeast have seen similar growth. The state of Maine’s oyster harvest was worth USD 1.3 million (EUR 1.2 million) a decade ago, and was worth USD 10 million (EUR 9.4 million) in 2021.

Coyne said the trade mission will focus on finding customers in the E.U. who are looking to buy more live shellfish.

“They’re aimed not only at buyers, also at chefs,” Coyne said.

The trade mission will feature one-on-one meetings with buyers, pre-event product research; country market presentations by the USDA, NOAA, and local industry experts; promotional materials; and more, according to Food Export Northeast. The deadline for registration is 20 July, 2022.

“We’re encouraging companies from our 10 Northeast states to consider the activity," Coyne said.

Photo courtesy of Jim Cork/Shutterstock


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