New Brunswick

Swiss ban against boiling lobster alive brings smiles — at first

A Swiss effort to mandate kindness to lobster before they're cooked could reach across the Atlantic Ocean to the East Coast lobster industry, but a New Brunswick company isn't worried yet.

'My first reaction was to laugh,' says Nathaniel Richard of Westmorland Fisheries in New Brunswick

A new Swiss laws dictates that, as of March 1, live lobster cannot be cooked in boiling water without being stunned dead first. It also can't be transported on ice. (Pablo Scrosati)

A Swiss effort to mandate kindness to lobster before they're cooked could reach across the Atlantic Ocean to the East Coast lobster industry, but a New Brunswick company isn't worried yet.

Earlier this week, the Swiss government banned boiling lobster live without stunning them first. It also stopped allowing the transport of live lobster packed in ice, instead insisting they be carried in something that reproduces their natural environment.

The new regulations are part of Switzerland's program to make the treatment of animals more humane.

"My first reaction was to laugh about it a little bit," said Nat Richard, director of corporate affairs at Westmorland Fisheries in Cap Pelé, N.B.

"You almost wonder if it's true or not."

According to Richard, Canada has very strict handling procedures.

Nat Richard, director of corporate affairs at Westmorland Fisheries, said the lobstery industry will be following the Swiss regulations closely, but he doesn't think they will hurt the East Coast fishery. (CBC)

Although the Swiss said they don't want lobster to feel pain before they're cooked, Richard isn't convinced the new regulations are any more humane than a quick dunk in boiling water, the traditional step in preparing the crustaceans as a meal.

"It is not a crueller method than, for example, decapitating the animal with a knife … or electrocuting the animal in an electrified water bath."

But Richard said it's important to take the Swiss changes seriously.

"I'm not concerned it'll become a major issue, but we need to be alert to it." 

He said Switzerland is not a major market for his company, compared with France, Germany, the United Kingdom or  Spain.

"But still it's something that we follow closely as an industry." 

Even some people in Switzerland were caught off guard by the changes.

Arnaud Hyséni, who owns the Geneva restaurant Entre Homard et Côte, specializing in beef and lobster, thought the regulations were a joke. 

"For the first while we laughed, because we couldn't believe it." 

He said he has called the Swiss health authorities for clarification. He wants to know if he is expected to buy special equipment to either electrocute the lobster or knock them unconscious, which the government said provides a quicker death than boiling.

I don't think the French, for example, would forfeit their foie gras industry.- Nat Richard, Westmorland Fisheries

​Hyséni also wonders how to import lobster without ice. 

He hasn't received any answers.

"What will be the real problem with this is the transport."

Hyséni may have gotten a laugh out of the new rules, but the potential effect on prices isn't funny to him. He sells whole lobster for 35 Swiss francs, or about $45 Can.

With the new regulations, he's worried he'll have to charge more.

"We're going to continue selling lobster because this is our concept … it's what people come for."

Richard isn't worried the Swiss rules will spread across Europe, complicating the industry's ability to export lobster, or affecting other industries. 

"I don't think the French, for example, would forfeit their foie gras industry," he said.

The U.S is the largest importer of Canadian lobster, and China is next. China bought $27.5 million worth of lobster in 2011, but that grew to about $162.8 million in 2016.

Richard said the Atlantic lobster industry is a healthy one, and he's not worried about Swiss laws dampening the demand.