By Andy Walker
FOR THE SOU’WESTER
Pasteurization could extend the shelf life of PEI lobsters and open up new markets in Europe and Asia, maintains Fisheries Minister Ron MacKinley.
As part of a pilot project, he said 25 pounds were shipped to Ireland in early May to be pasteurized since the demand is for fresh rather than frozen lobsters. If successful, he said this project will help the Island lobster industry expand markets around the world. And also because there is
no pasteurization facility closer to home, MacKinley said if successful the province might look at purchasing a machine or cost-sharing the price tag with industry. He told Conservative MLA James Aylward recently in the legislature the main concern is how the pasteurized lobster will taste.
“It’s no good ordering in a machine, then all of sudden we find out the pasteurized tasted doesn’t taste the same as fresh-cooked lobster,” he said.
MacKinley said the department has arranged a contract with a shipper that is already going to Ireland to keep the costs down. He said the shelf life of a pasteurized lobster is 32 days, compared to 72 hours for a traditional live lobster.
The veteran cabinet minister said industry-government trade missions in China are starting to raise the profile of Island lobsters in the world’s most populated country, and he is confident there is also potential in the two other emerging markets.
“They’re shipping lobsters to China now and there’s going to be more shipped this year,” he said.
He added discussions are now underway to bring a delegation from India before the spring lobster season ends. There has also been interest from a news show in that country doing a show on the Island lobster industry. In fact, the minister already has a trip in a lobster boat lined up – a vessel owned by a family member of Tracadie-Hillsborough Park MLA Buck Watts. The Liberal MLA was a fisherman before he entered politics and is a former president of the PEI Fishermen’s Association.
During a recent trip to western Canada, MacKinley said he visited stores that didn’t carry lobster and, “They told me if I could get them fresh lobsters, I think they had 187 stores between Saskatchewan and Alberta, and they would fill up with lobsters. The markets are there. We just have to tap into the right place, and it takes time.”
However, he said another major hurdle is the fact there is no forward price available. MacKinley said he talked to a major caterer in Ottawa that was interested in purchasing lobsters throughout the season but he wanted a price in advance. The minister said he talked to a number of people in the fishing community but that is just something that is not available under the current pricing formula.
The minister, a farmer by profession, contrasted that with another of the province’s major exports: potatoes. He said 65 per cent of the Island crop is contracted to major processing companies and the producers know in advance what they will be receiving.
“Just think if we could get 50 per cent or 60 per cent of our lobsters contracted, so the fisher knows they’re going to get before they fish,” he said. “This is ridiculous waiting a couple of weeks when boats go out to fish, and waiting a week or two to find out what the price is. Things have got to change.”