At the end of March, over 200 people met at the Lord Nelson hotel in the midst of a late winter storm to talk about lobster. For two days, harvesters, processors, shippers, buyers and policy makers discussed recommendations from the Maritime Lobster Panel, intent on transforming the industry at what was called the Lobster Value Recovery Summit. Even the federal and provincial fisheries ministers from all three Maritime Provinces braved the storm to join the discussion.
What's the urgency? Value. While lobster may seem pricy at restaurants or at the grocery store, the price our fishers are getting for their catch is barely enough to make a living. Last year, we saw such an overabundant supply of lobster that prices plummeted lower than they've been for years. Fishers who were already struggling to make a profit from their catch were just hoping to cover their expenses. Many were unable to break even and were forced to go out of business. As we stop fishing, our coastal communities suffer.
The Lobster Value Recovery Summit brought industry and political decision-makers together to agree on solutions to the ongoing problems that exist in this traditional fishery. This gathering of the clans was commendable and long overdue. Nevertheless, we all need to look a little deeper if we are to transform this resource into a valuable and celebrated food--- one that only comes from the cool, clear waters of the North Atlantic.
The logical first step to improving the market for lobster is to appreciate the product here in Nova Scotia. Halifax's local food movement has blossomed in recent years and it's not hard to find a locally made, grass-fed, free-range beef burger or a pint of local craft beer. Finding fresh, local and sustainable seafood, however, is a real challenge unless you know where to look and have really done your homework. If I wanted to go out for lunch and grab a lobster roll, I'd be hard-pressed to find one in Halifax.
Burgers, for example, have proven to be a great way to highlight Halifax's great local restaurants and the wonderful ingredients available from across Nova Scotia. Last time I checked our beef industry wasn't verging on iconic---but our lobster fishery is. Wouldn't it be incredible if we could show the same love for lobster as we did for the humble burger during Burger Week? There is an incredible opportunity to build marketing locally, to be proud of our resource and to celebrate it.
We could take a lesson from our counterparts to the south, where many Canadian lobsters go to be processed. In Maine, they are proud of their lobster. They've also been innovative on a smaller scale, with mail-order lobster from specific vessels, and the establishment of companies like Luke's Lobster in New York City, where lineups stretch around the corner on any given day. Where is Halifax's Luke's Lobster?
Seafood from Nova Scotia is some of the best on the planet and we should be proud of it. Rather than focusing on how to get our lobster to market as cheaply as possible, we should add value to it by celebrating its story. We need to work collaboratively, find new relationships and resolve old ones so that we have something that adds true value to our seafood products and ensures a fair price for our fishing families. We've got plenty of stories to tell. Who is the fisher behind that lobster? Where do they fish? How do they fish? Who do they fish with? Why do they fish?
We've got all of the pieces. The question is whether or not we can work together and put that into a marketing plan that has pride and value at its core. So who's up for Lobster Week?