The crew of the lobster fishing boat Bryan Earl I check gear in Pubnico Harbour. Kathy Johnson photo

The need and benefits for best practice lobster handling throughout the supply chain was one of the main action items identified by industry stakeholders from both sides of the border at the 16th annual Lobster Town Meeting in Moncton on Jan. 24 and 25.

Organized by The Lobster Institute at the University of Maine, about 120 industry representatives attended the two-day conference to discuss the status of the lobster resource and the business of lobstering.

Lobster processing in North America, marketing techniques, the North Atlantic right whale and media relations were on the agenda at this year’s meeting.

Dr. Rick Wahle, executive director of The Lobster Institute, said one of the main action items identified at the meeting was the need for industry as a whole to do a better job when handling lobsters.

“One of the big concerns is quality,” said Wahle in an interview.

“As live lobster move through the supply chain… every step along the way, every time a lobster comes out of trap, goes into a live tank, a crate, on the dock, to a refrigerated truck, to a holding facility, each one of those steps is a stress point where they’re lost along the way. The handling issue starts right with the fishermen” from how the lobster is handled to the quality and temperature of water in the holding tank.

“The need for that kind of care goes right through the supply chain,” said Wahle.

“More industry members need to adopt some of these best practices in terms of lobster handling in order to maximize survival in the supply chain to get the greatest value out of the product… At the end of the day everybody profits… There’s a greater need for all sectors to work together and to think of themselves as a team, maximizing the quality of the product.”

With such a massive amount of lobster on the market right now, Wahle said a lot of emphasis is being placed on looking for new markets and to diversify the kind of lobster products available to the consumer… “creating a product that broadens the appeal to not only the luxury market which can be very volatile, but also to the market as a valuable protein that is very affordable. We are competing with all kinds of other proteins for people to buy… we can all work to promote the product as a healthy sustainable protein.”

Working together and increasing collaboration on both sides of the border was the general sentiment by the harvesting, buying and processing industry sectors represented at the meeting, from both the U.S. and Canada, said Dr. Wahle. “We are all in this together,” he said,” calling the lobster trade between the two countries “an amazing dance.”

He added that there was also a “genuine sense that we want to protect” the North Atlantic right whales.

“There are different solutions on the table, whether its area closures, changing gear configuration to reduce the vertical lines… it becomes very complex. A lot of people are working really hard to figure out the best solution, but it does seem the fishing industry is going to have to make some compromises.”

A report on the Lobster Town Meeting is being prepared by graduate students and will be made available on the Lobster Institute’s website in the near future. Next year’s meeting will be in Portland.

Since 1987, the Lobster Institute has been a centre of discovery, innovation and outreach at the University of Maine. Its mission is to promote, conduct and communicate research focused on the sustainability of the American lobster fishery in the U.S. and Canada.

The Institute also provides technical and educational outreach, disseminates research findings in understandable and accessible ways, and convenes conferences and workshops to engage stakeholders in solving challenges faced by this iconic fishery.