Trade agreements that are opening up new markets for Canadian fish and seafood products in South Korea and within the European Union were sources of optimism among Canadian delegates attending the Seafood Expo North America this week in Boston.
Federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea, said during a media teleconference call from the world's second largest seafood expo that the European Union trade agreement "will mean huge opportunities for the lobster industry in Atlantic Canada."
Industry representatives who joined Shea on the call admitted the agreements carry great potential for opening up new markets.
Jeff Duncan, vice-president of Global Marketing for Nova Scotia-based Clearwater Seafoods, said the Asian market should open up new opportunities for the company's lobster and specialty scallop products.
"We're trying to find ways to add value across all of our species so that customers and consumers look at it and say, 'I'm willing to either pay more for that,' or, 'I think I can create more demand for that product because you as the manufacturer or supplier are trying to add perceived value to it," Duncan said, in describing the products and services Clearwater was promoting at the show.
Shea said the agreement with the Republic of Korea alone is projected to grow Canada's seafood exports by 32 per cent and represent a $1.7-billion annual economic boost in Canada.
Once the EU deal is finalized, she said, Canada's seafood industry will gain access to 500 million consumers and a portion of their $17 trillion in annual economic activity.
Shea made it clear Canada is not overlooking its largest trading partner, noting that 60 per cent of Canada's seafood exports go to the United States.
She said the expo is an opportunity for Canadian industry to meet face-to-face with American buyers.
"There's certainly lots of optimism about the future of this industry here in Boston," Shea acknowledged.
While Shea would not speculate on whether all the optimism might translate into higher prices for Atlantic lobster, the director general of the Quebec Fish Processors Association, Jean-Paul Gagné said he is optimistic of higher prices in Quebec this year. Martin Sullivan, Chief Operating Officer for Ocean Choice International, was more cautious.
"I hear stuff in the hallways," he said in reference to discussions on prices.
He admitted the current shore price is higher than he expected but cautioned lobster pricing is still controlled by supply and demand.
"It's hard to predict what's going to happen because things change by the day as every boat goes out and fishes," he commented.
Shea said suppliers and processors even get a sense at the show of products that they might be able to develop for specific markets. She said she discovered, for instance, there's a big market in Asia for salted flaked salmon.
"It's clear that Canada has a reputation for producing high-quality seafood that's sought around the world," said Shea, adding that Canadians at the show did a great job showcasing an industry she described as well-regulated and sustainable.