ANTIGONISH, N.S. - The gratification that comes from sitting down to a succulent lobster dinner is a well-earned pleasure. Not just because the meal itself is such a satisfying treat - at least for th...
LEGO FOR LOBSTERS: BioNovation's live seafood transport systems are stackable, portable and designed to provide the next best thing to a real ocean environment. Pictured are Peter Dockrill (left), business development manager and Joe Boudreau, president and general manager of BioNovations. Photo by Adam Ledlow
ANTIGONISH, N.S. – The gratification that comes from sitting down to a succulent lobster dinner is a well-earned pleasure. Not just because the meal itself is such a satisfying treat – at least for those of us living beyond the borders of lobster-rich Atlantic Canada – but the process of transporting live seafood from ocean to dinner plate can be such a delicate, arduous task that it demands a certain level of appreciation.
The major struggle for transporters of live lobster is fairly predictable: making sure the product remains alive until the destination is reached. But ensuring the product’s survival is a difficult task with several factors contributing to the problem.
For seafood companies in Nova Scotia – the Maritime Mecca for the lobster industry – geography and population are the two main factors hindering the success of their businesses. In most major urban centres, the chief method for transporting live seafood is through a chartered air system, one of the speediest ways to get a perishable product from Point A to Point B. But since Nova Scotia’s population is too small to support a charter system on a large scale, the majority of local product must be shipped through commercial flight – a major problem according to Joe Boudreau, president and general manager of BioNovations, a Nova-Scotia-based manufacturer of live holding systems for retail, restaurant and wholesale operations.
“With lobsters, you’ve got to handle them carefully or just the handling will kill them,” Boudreau says. “There’s nobody in the airline industry that’s really taking care of people’s product. They treat it as another commodity.”
Though frequent flyers may gripe during their pre-flight manhandling by airport security, the process doesn’t usually leave them dead – an all-too-common outcome for lobsters that fly commercial. Boudreau estimates that anywhere from 10 to 15 different groups of people will handle the lobster as it moves along the supply chain, and the greater number of times a lobster is handled and subjected to unpredictable temperature changes, the greater the chances that it will kick the lobster bucket.
In addition to over-handling, airport delays can increase the chances of lobster mortality. Recent crackdowns on undersized lobsters being brought into the US have further intensified both the handling and delays that contribute to the problem.
In order to sidestep some of these aviation issues, seafood companies in Nova Scotia are being forced to truck their product to major hubs like Boston, New York, Toronto, or Montreal in order to get their product out to the rest of Canada and the US. Though the method allows these companies to broaden the reach of their corporate arm, adding an extra stop means adding more time and expense to an already lengthy trip.
“It takes a tremendous amount of time and labour to get (the product) moving three or four times; moving from truck to plane and so on and so forth. The logistics of hauling our product in Canada is a huge problem,” Boudreau says.
As the world’s largest producer of live lobster, Atlantic Canada can’t afford to be bogged down by these logistical problems, Boudreau says, which is why BioNovations is offering a solution for the trucking industry. In addition to the company’s live holding systems, BioNovations has been developing a unique transportation system for use in truck trailers.
The traditional method of moving lobster by truck requires packing the product into Styrofoam boxes. A standard 30-lb box has a cover with holes in it and dry sheet of paper placed on the bottom of the box. The live product goes on top of the sheet (usually about 25 lobsters per box) and gel packs are placed on top. The Styrofoam box then goes inside a cardboard box and is ready to be shipped.
Besides being a crowded and unnatural environment for the lobster, the “box” method can also be expensive, costing an average of 25 cents per pound in materials.
BioNovations is looking to replace this conventional method with a product that is essentially a mobile version of its live holding systems. The trailer system would allow the user to take the lobster-occupied trays from a live holding system, place them on a plastic pallet and drive them directly into the trailer. Once in place, water sprays down into the trays and circulates back up to the filtration and refrigeration unit at the front of the trailer. Because moisture and temperature are controlled in the trailer, the lobster can enjoy a much more natural environment compared to a Styrofoam box. “It’s not the same as being in the sea, but it’s as close as we can get,” Boudreau says.
In addition to being less stressful for the lobster, Boudreau says customers can expect less stress on their wallets because of lowered costs from reduced materials, handling and labour.
“(The system) is going to change the industry…by giving wholesalers greater control over their product and the ability to move freight much more cheaply,” he says. “(Wholesalers) will also enjoy better quality because of the system’s controlled environment because mortality rates should drop substantially.”
Boudreau also says truck drivers should find the system easy to use, with maintenance limited to the odd filter cleaning (think oversized fish tank).
BioNovations has been developing the trailer system since 2006, shortly after it acquired the assets of a company which manufactured live holding systems. Boudreau says BioNovations has made vast improvements since it devised the system’s original prototype, having re-engineered numerous components to make the unit lighter and allow the trailer to hold more payload.
The improved system will now be able to hold between 25,000 to 30,000 lbs of live product, making it a one-of-a-kind product in the marketplace, he says.
“As far as we know we’re the only company in the world that has an insulated, moulded container that holds live lobsters at the size that we have,” Boudreau says. “It’s the only system of its type: it’s portable, transportable, and you can take it down and set it up again in a different area like a Lego set.”
Word of the BioNovations transportation system has already spread as far as Europe, where a company is trying to come up with a system similar to BioNovations’ to transport fish in tanks of water. At the moment, BioNovations is prepping its new facility for the upcoming launch of the product. Boudreau says he expects “explosive growth” in seafood transportation because of the possibilities the trailer system presents for the industry.
“The industry has to change because the airline industry is such a hectic thing,” Boudreau says. “It’s extremely hard to move live product by air and to do it by (truck) transport, it’s almost impossible unless you come up with a system like ours. I think once that door opens up, you’ll see everybody move along these routes.”