Nearly all of the Atlantic Canadian lobster industry will be assessed for an international stamp of environmental sustainability this year in an effort to expand exports to Europe and emerging markets.
The Marine Stewardship Council — which is based in England and has a regional office in Seattle — is carrying out the evaluation, which is expected to take between nine and 10 months.
"The announcement of the full assessment of this large portion of the Atlantic Canadian lobster fishery represents a milestone in Atlantic Canada for involvement in the MSC program," Jay Lugar, the fisheries outreach manager for the Marine Stewardship Council in the Americas, said in a statement.
The council will review the management and sustainability of the most lucrative lobster grounds in Canada, including the largest fleet off southwestern Nova Scotia, across the Bay of Fundy and in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.
"It matters because in the world market now, especially in Europe and other developing markets, we need to have third party certification for sustainability," said Geoff Irvine, the executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada, based in Halifax.
"This is the gold standard for that."
Fishermen, processors and exporters are sharing the cost of the assessment. It costs roughly $10 per fisherman, according to the Lobster Council of Canada.
The government of Nova Scotia is contributing $100,000 and the government of New Brunswick is chipping in another $30,000.
"It's part of our marketing, it's part of our brand promise, it's part of telling our customers and the world consumer that this fish is good to eat because it comes from a sustainable fishery," said Irvine.
"That's very important in today's seafood market."
The certification by the Marine Stewardship Council is expected to impose conditions on the fishery, but Irvine downplayed concerns.
"They aren't going to be overly daunting. It's mostly about data collection and environmental impacts. Most of them have already been addressed through fisheries plans," he said.
"Day to day on the water, it's unlikely harvesters will have to change anything."
That's a tacit acknowledgement of the effectiveness and value of the management plans developed over decades by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Later this month, the region's lobster industry will hold a summit in Halifax to find ways to increase the value of the lobster landed. That is expected to include discussions of a mandatory per pound levy to promote the product.
In 2012, the landed value of all lobster fisheries in Atlantic Canada was $663 million — the highest of any fishery in Canada.