New process may allow shipping fresh lobster to Alberta - MacKinley

Dave Stewart
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CHARLOTTETOWN - The provincial and federal governments are close to a big announcement that will see a new market created for P.E.I. lobster.

Brian Matthews guides a load of lobster pans out of a boat at West Point on Monday. The fall season opened Friday and is said to be off to a good start. There’s no word yet on price, though.

It means more fresh lobster will be getting shipped off-Island.

Responding to a question from Opposition Leader Steven Myers in the P.E.I. legislature on Tuesday, Fisheries Minister Ron MacKinley says negotiations are ongoing with Royal Star in Tignish to pasteurize lobster and ship it to Alberta-based Sysco Canada, one of the biggest marketing and distributing food companies in the world.

“We’re negotiating with Royal Star right now . . . we’ve also approached Sysco. We’ve got lawyers working on a patent which is something we’ve got to do because we’re doing it in the shell, not out of the shell with bags of meat,’’ MacKinley said after question period.

Government has been working with the Food Technology Centre and culinary institute for a few years now on the process. Developed in Ireland, the pasteurization process involved whole, cooked lobster. The process extends the shelf life of a whole cooked lobster from 72 hours to 32 days.

While the two men obviously don’t agree on everything, especially in the legislature, MacKinley had nothing but praise for Myers on Tuesday.

“I want to give Steven Myers credit. He helped lobby ACOA and (National Revenue Minister and Egmont MP) Gail Shea because, between us and the province and the federal government, we were able to purchase the machine to do commercial pasteurization.’’

MacKinley wouldn’t say what the exact cost was, pending the official announcement, but did say it was less than $500,000. ACOA will help pay for it.

“He scooped the (announcement),’’ MacKinley said, referring to Myers’ question in the legislature, “but this is a good story for lobsters.’’

Royal Star, depending on the outcome of negotiations, would use the machine to package the lobster while Sysco would distribute it.

Initial taste tests last year didn’t bode well for the process so everyone had to go back to the drawing board. MacKinley said the latest taste tests show that pasteurized lobster (vacuum-pack sealed) tastes almost as good, and in some cases better, than fresh cooked lobster out of the pot.

“We’ve got to make sure when that product hits the consumer that the product is perfect. The consumer wants it in the shell.’’

MacKinley said the key is extending the shelf life of lobsters, something that will enable to Island industry to be able to compete in the global marketplace. Since airplanes can’t handle much in the way of volume, the product is shipped out west by truck.

“There’s all kinds of markets out there, not just for lobsters but for all our shellfish (and) it’s very important we concentrate on markets right here in Canada.’’

At the moment, P.E.I. exports about 84 per cent of its lobster to the United States.

“This should be a win-win situation. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that it works.’’

Organizations: Royal Star, Sysco, Food Technology Centre

Geographic location: P.E.I., Alberta, Tignish Ireland Iceland Canada United States

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