Nova Scotia lobster buyers call for halt to 'unfair' new handling rules

The Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association is calling for the provincial government to withdraw a new policy that requires buyers to take a lobster handling course this spring before their licences are renewed.

Fish Packers Association says the province should have consulted first and applied new rules to harvesters

New provincial rules mean lobster buyers must take a course in order to be licensed. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

An organization representing lobster buyers in Nova Scotia is calling for the provincial government to withdraw a new policy that requires buyers to take a lobster handling course this spring before their licences are renewed.

The Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association, which represents 50 seafood companies, is calling for more consultations with industry and says the new policy is "unfair."

Nathan Blades, president of the association, says buyers were surprised by the new rules, don't believe they are necessary, and notes those catching lobsters won't have to jump through the same hoops.

"Buyers and exporters of live lobster in Nova Scotia have been in this business for decades," he said. "The concept of delivering high-quality product is not lost on these people. It's been their business for decades. If you deliver poor quality to your market, you damage your market."

In a statement, Fisheries Minister Keith Colwell says the lobster handling course is a way to ensure the lobster export industry continues growing. He said the course will focus on basic biological information and best practices. 

 "This allows us to develop a common standard for lobster handling across the sector and will build the reputation of quality for our industry," the statement said. 

'Lopsided' new requirements

Blades says the industry supports training, but the issue is "how this program has come about and basically thrown upon the industry to deal with."

"I can't think you'd ever find anybody who is against training, against good handling practices, against good business practices," he said. 

The Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association says lobster harvesters should be subject to any handling policies. (CBC)

The association calls the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture's policy "lopsided" and says any handling rules should include how lobsters are treated at sea.

"The harvesters are the ones handling the lobster first," said Blades, speaking from Cape Sable Island. "A lobster-quality initiative that is focussed on good handling practices, and delivering high quality, has to include everybody in the value chain."

Handling courses nothing new

Blades says buyers have organized and offered lobster handling courses in the past that teach people about a lobster's biology, how stress affects them and how to ensure they're not damaged. 

Many companies ensure employees receive training, but it's always been a voluntary step, he said. 

He says he's unaware of any concerns about how lobster are handled in the province. 

"We as an industry were blindsided by the comments that came out of the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture that they think there was a problem. I think the industry is all saying, 'Where's the problem?'"

The association of buyers say many companies already ensure people take handling courses to ensure lobsters make it to market alive. (CBC)


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