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Lobster market hoping to weather the storm as Coronavirus impacts shipments to China

'There's going to be some stress over the next coming weeks and possibly a month or so, but hopefully things will turn out okay,' says Leo Muise, Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance
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(stock photo)

EDITOR'S NOTE: The headline and lead line of the story have been changed. The originals misinterpreted the current situation in Nova Scotia's lobster industry.

It may be months before live lobster shipments to China can resume due to Coronavirus and Nova Scotia's seafood business is hoping to weather the storm.

"Our first thoughts are with the people in Asia and China and the rest of the world, Iran, Italy and other countries that are affected by the virus," says Leo Muise, Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance.

Shipments to Asia have slowed almost to a halt since mid-January when the virus began to spread.

"Hopefully people in the world will do everything that is possible to be done and we will stem the effect of this thing very quickly," Muise tells NEWS 95.7's The Todd Veinotte Show.

The seafood market is heavily influenced by world events, according to Muise.

"Geo-political events that happen all over this world have a great effect on this industry. Three years ago when the U.S. government and the Chinese government got into that trade war, and China put retaliatory tariffs on the U.S., that's when our sales to China started to boom because we have a financial advantage there," he adds.

Because of this external market force, Muise says Nova Scotia's seafood market is very diverse and includes about 40 or 50 countries.

"At the time the Chinese market was probably the largest market in the country," he says. "But it's by no means I would say critical, simply because we are a very diverse group."

Muise says live lobster shipments to the U.S. were number one last year before China's demand hit an all-time high. They have since moved back into the number one spot.

"The U.S. is by far our biggest market," Muise explains. "If you look at 2019 as a whole I believe the data will show that the U.S. was still number one. But if you look at the last two or three months of 2019, I think the exports to China did surpass the U.S. by a bit."

Other countries like Europe have also been increasing their demand, even as shipments to Asia slow.

"European market is number three, and we do have the Canada-European trade agreement, CETA, and that also gives us an advantage in the seafood business over the United States in particular who don't have a trade agreement with Europe," says Muise.

The executive director explains that live lobsters shipped to Europe have no tariffs imposed, while the U.S. sees about an eight per cent tax.

But Muise suspects that if live lobster demand decreases overall, the industry may put more resources towards canned lobster products.

"One of the solutions might be to divert more product from live into the processed sector, and I believe some of that is taking place right now," he says.

Although Muise doesn't want to downplay the severity of the situation and the importance of lobster sales in China, he thinks the industry will bounce back.

"I'm confident that we will weather this," he says. "There's going to be some stress over the next coming weeks and possibly a month or so, but hopefully things will turn out okay."


Victoria  Walton

About the Author: Victoria Walton

Victoria is HalifaxToday.ca's weekend editor and a Halifax-based freelancer. She is originally from Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley.
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