FISH-TO-FORK TRA­CEA­BI­LI­TY

LOBS­TER CER­TI­FI­CA­TION, STEP-BY-STEP

Guide-Magazine Gaspesie Gourmande - - Traçable -

It’s par­ty night! Spring is fi­nal­ly here and you’re pre­pa­ring a feast of this ma­gni­ficent crus­ta­cean. You’re just about to buy it when you no­tice a round tag at­ta­ched to one of its claws. Wi­thout rea­li­sing it, you’re about to ex­pe­rience tra­cea­bi­li­ty.

Be­fore ea­ting your lobs­ter, you take a clo­ser look at the round tag. You re­co­gnise the Ali­ments du Qué­bec lo­go and then see the words, Gas­pé­sie, ori­gine ga­ran­tie, a web ad­dress mon­ho­mard.ca1 and an al­pha­nu­me­ri­cal code. Fol­lo­wing the ins­truc­tions on the web­site, you take a vir­tual trip to the Gas­pé and get to know the har­ves­ter who caught your sup­per in one of his or her traps.

WHERE’S MY LOBS­TER FROM?

Ho­ma­rus ame­ri­ca­nus is one of the lar­gest ma­rine crus­ta­ceans. Its range stretches from New­found­land and La­bra­dor to North Ca­ro­li­na. The Gulf of St. La­wrence and Gulf of Maine po­pu­la­tions are par­ti­cu­lar­ly abun­dant. The 163 lobs­ter har­ves­ting crews ba­sed on the Gas­pé Pe­nin­su­la and An­ti­cos­ti Is­land land near­ly one third of all Qué­bec lobs­ter.

All along the coast, they each in their own way boast of the qua­li­ty of their fi­shing grounds and how the water tem­pe­ra­ture and na­ture of the sea­bed there im­prove the fla­vour of the lobs­ter they catch. Pro­mo­tio­nal campaigns fo­cus on its ex­cel­lence and, in­crea­sin­gly, on the res­pon­sible and sus­tai­nable ma­na­ge­ment of po­pu­la­tions. This in­ver­te­brate, consi­de­red a nui­sance and trea­ted as such when caught by ac­ci­dent in the past, has be­come an ico­nic Ca­na­dian spe­cies2, ex­por­ted to 50 coun­tries around the world.

The lobs­ter earns in­come for thou­sands of skip­pe­row­ners and their crew mem­bers as well as for buyers, who­le­sa­lers, dis­tri­bu­tors and mer­chants. And tem­pers rise from time to time when the dis­cus­sion turns to the prices paid to har­ves­ters. The de­fi­ni­tion of a “fair price” dif­fers de­pen­ding on whe­ther you’ve ac­tual­ly ta­ken the lobs­ter from the water or are at some point along the dis­tri­bu­tion chain.

“We’ve al­ways as­ked MAPAQ3 to do two things: first, pro­tect the Qué­bec mar­ket from lobs­ter ar­ri­ving from el­sew­here along the At­lan­tic sea­board and se­cond, set a mi­ni­mum price,” ex­plains O’Neil Clou­tier, Re­grou­pe­ment des pê­cheurs pro­fes­sion­nels du sud de la Gas­pé­sie pre­sident “but in­ter­pro­vin­cial trade rules and the dif­fi­cul­ty es­ta­bli­shing an agree­ment com­pli­cate things.” So to make Qué­bec lobs­ter dis­tinct at the gro­ce­ry store, an iden­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tem was in­tro­du­ced. It al­so al­lows consumers to ea­si­ly trace their lobs­ter and find out where it came from. The lobs­ter har­ves­ters on the Mag­da­len Is­lands al­so ma­nage a cer­ti­fied ori­gin pro­gram, an ap­proach that’s gra­dual­ly being adop­ted throu­ghout At­lan­tic Ca­na­da.

A FIRST IDEN­TI­FI­CA­TION AT­TEMPT

It was 1992. The fi­shing in­dus­try was in cri­sis; prices had col­lap­sed. Sear­ching for so­lu­tions, a de­ci­sion was made to iden­ti­fy the ori­gin of Qué­bec crus­ta­ceans. That year’s lobs­ter, with fleur-de-lys blue elas­tic bands on their claws, took consumers by sur­prise at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son. But in no time, the reac­tion be­came po­si­tive. The ef­fort was so suc­cess­ful, in fact, that lobs­ter from other ori­gins bea­ring coun­ter­feit elas­tic bands be­gan to ap­pear on the mar­ket the fol­lo­wing sea­son. The idea of buil­ding al­liances with consumers was al­rea­dy on the ho­ri­zon. But prices re­co­ve­red, the cri­sis dis­si­pa­ted and the pro­ject was aban­do­ned, and in the end, the ad­ven­ture didn’t last ve­ry long.

In 2008-2009 the in­dus­try fa­ced ano­ther cri­sis. Much worse than the last one, ac­cor­ding to O’Neil Clou­tier. The mar­ket was floo­ded with small lobs­ter just as Qué­bec adop­ted stock ma­na­ge­ment mea­sures es­ta­bli­shing com­mer­cial size stan­dards. From that time on Gas­pé Pe­nin­su­la har­ves­ters would on­ly mar­ket lobs­ter with a ca­ra­pace size of bet­ween 82 mm and 145 mm, the idea being to pro­tect both the youn­gest in­di­vi­duals and the lar­gest brood­stock. On the whole, the fi­she­ry was doing well and lan­dings had in­crea­sed over the years to the point where the ove­rall sup­ply lar­ge­ly ex­cee­ded do­mes­tic de­mand. Prices fell even as

boat ope­ra­ting costs conti­nued to in­crease. “Over time and fa­cing pres­sure from ano­ny­mous brands, we lost our mar­ket and our re­pu­ta­tion,” ob­serves Jean Cô­té, the Re­grou­pe­ment’s bio­lo­gist. “We had to re­gain our po­si­tion.”

“In 2012, we be­came proac­tive by ins­tal­ling elec­tro­nic log­books on all our lobs­ter fi­shing boats. The har­ves­ters used them to re­cord their catch da­ta eve­ry day, in­clu­ding their by-catch.” This was one of the steps ta­ken to ob­tain re­cog­ni­tion for the group’s sus­tai­nable fi­shing prac­tices. Then, the work be­gan to ob­tain cer­ti­fi­ca­tion gua­ran­teeing the lobs­ter’s ori­gin. As consumers be­came in­crea­sin­gly fo­cus­sed on buying lo­cal­ly, the idea came up again to ap­peal to them and help them re­co­gnise the ori­gin of the lobs­ter they were ea­ting. Ma­ny would even be willing to pay a lit­tle more for a qua­li­ty feast as long as they could trust the in­for­ma­tion they were gi­ven. A de­ci­sion was made to use the In­ter­net and so­cial me­dia. It was time for Lobs­ter 2.0.

THOU­SANDS OF CLICKS AND FA­CE­BOOK LIKES LA­TER

It’s said that crises spur the ima­gi­na­tion and crea­ti­vi­ty. Fo­cu­sing on qua­li­ty pays off just about eve­ryw­here, why not in the Gas­pé?

In 2012, 30 percent of the lobs­ter caught in the region was iden­ti­fied. One of the two elas­tic bands hol­ding the claws car­ried a num­be­red tag. Consumers could en­ter the num­ber at a de­di­ca­ted web­site, mon­ho­mard.ca, which would connect them to the har­ves­ters and their boats. On the web­site, they could watch vi­deo clips re­cor­ded while the har­ves­ters were at work on the water, find the name and re­gis­tra­tion num­ber of each lobs­ter boat, its home har­bour, the name of its skip­per-ow­ner and his or her e-mail ad­dress. In the case of lobs­ter har­ves­ted by the Mi’gmaq Na­tion, the al­pha­nu­me­ri­cal code re­fer­red vi­si­tors to the band coun­cils.

At the same time, the Re­grou­pe­ment conti­nued its re­flec­tion on the is­sue of sus­tai­nable de­ve­lop­ment. The idea was to ob­tain MSC4 cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, an in­ter­na­tio­nal stan­dard that gua­ran­tees that all catch-re­la­ted steps are ri­go­rous, sus­tai­nable and va­li­da­ted by scien­ti­fic ex­perts.

The har­ves­ters gra­dual­ly joi­ned the ori­gin iden­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­gram un­til in 2013, all Gas­pe­sian lobs­ter wore tags. When the har­ves­ters first set out to sea this year, they each had their al­lot­ted tags for the sea­son, ba­sed on their 2014 catches.

And in March 2015, the Re­grou­pe­ment ob­tai­ned its MSC cer­ti­fi­ca­tion; “a splen­did achie­ve­ment,” ac­cor­ding to Jean Cô­té. Ho­we­ver, some im­pro­ve­ment is still re­qui­red. Be­cause cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is on­ly re­ne­wed if the or­ga­ni­sa­tion conti­nues to im­ple­ment im­pro­ve­ments in its prac­tices, its prio­ri­ty now is to work to re­duce re­per­cus­sions on At­lan­tic mac­ke­rel in the Gulf. This spe­cies is used to bait traps.

IM­PACT ON PRICES?

This ope­ra­tion has been suc­cess­ful in a num­ber of ways; no­ta­bly it has shown that people are willing to pay more for Qué­bec lobs­ter. “We know our ef­forts pro­duce re­sults; the ave­rage price we get is hi­gher than that for lobs­ter from other re­gions, and people ask for our lobs­ter,” adds Cô­té. But there’s still a lot of work to be done to make sure har­ves­ters feel they’re being trea­ted equi­ta­bly and get­ting what they consi­der their fair share of the ad­ded va­lue.

One thing is cer­tain; that ma­ny clicks, words of af­fec­tion and buying choices do not lie. Consumers in­crea­sin­gly want to know more about the ori­gins of what they’re put­ting on the table, and concerns about spe­cies pro­tec­tion and the sound har­vest of stocks ap­pear to be here for good.

As for the lobs­ter har­ves­ters, they need to conti­nue to be­come fa­mi­liar with these new tasks as they go on with eve­ry­thing else they al­rea­dy have to do du­ring the short fi­shing sea­son. And their re­pre­sen­ta­tives say they’re de­ter­mi­ned to conti­nue their ef­forts to pro­mote cer­ti­fied ori­gin lobs­ter at fish stores and ma­jor gro­ce­ry stores; they’re confi­dent that more consumers will get on board. And why not? So­cial me­dia now of­fers so ma­ny other ways to forge new friend­ships.

2. Fi­she­ries and Oceans Ca­na­da (dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/sus­tai­na­ble­du­rable/fi­she­ries-peches/lobs­ter-ho­mard-eng.htm)

4. Ma­rine Stewardship Coun­cil (msc.org).

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