Nfld. & Labrador

Suffocating lobster: Licence suspended for Quin-Sea operation in Southern Harbour

More lobsters are being stored in shallow water and when the temperature increases, oxygen levels drop.

Overcrowding has killed thousands of pounds of lobster, sources tell CBC News

Yellow tape could be seen around the wharf of Quin-Sea Fisheries on Tuesday. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

The provincial government has suspended the lobster processing licence and detained large quantities of the shellfish at a seafood processing operation in Southern Harbour, CBC News has confirmed.

Seafood inspectors with the provincial fisheries department converged on the Quin-Sea Fisheries operation Tuesday, fastening yellow caution tape to the wharf with the words "under detention" in black letters.

Tethered just outside the wharf and floating on the surface were more then 100 plastic crates, each capable of handling up to 100 pounds of live lobster.

Sources say thousands of pounds of lobster have died recently at the site because of what was described as an "overcrowding" of lobster stored in a nearby holding pen. Those with knowledge of the operation say the holding pen lacks proper circulation, and that lobsters are either dying or weakening because of a lack of oxygen in the water.

Seafood inspectors were at Quin-Sea operations Tuesday, and sources tell CBC it's related to issues with lobsters being crowded into crates and suffocating before being processed. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

The pen was empty Tuesday when CBC News visited the site, with a source saying a forecast of large amounts of rain posed an additional risk, since fresh water can kill lobster.

Byrne says 'serious problem' at Southern Harbour

Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne would not provide any specifics when contacted Tuesday afternoon, but said the rare suspension was issued following a series of inspections that uncovered violations of the province's Fish Inspection Act.

"The inspections that have been done in the past indicate that there is a problem at Southern Harbour," Byrne said Tuesday.

The company has been buying lobster in big numbers from harvesters in Placentia and Fortune Bays this year, leading to overcrowding in the holding pen.

Sources tell CBC Quin-Sea has had several big buys of lobster, leading to overcrowding in the holding pen. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

The concern is that the crates are crowded into shallow water and, as the water temperature rises, oxygen levels plummet.

This is causing some lobster to suffocate, and those that don't die before being processed, are weak and of reduced quality.

Byrne said the department will take action whenever there's a situation that might tarnish the industry's reputation. He stressed that there is no risk to human health.

"I'm confident harvesters will be able to seek other markets, but as well, potentially in the not-so-distant future, should Quin-Sea decide to become compliant with the act, that plant will reopen … by the actions of the owners themselves," said Byrne.

A group of inspectors and Quin-Sea employees could be seen on the wharf Tuesday morning, but they left when CBC arrived.

Seafood inspectors were on site at Quin-Sea's plant in New Harbour Tuesday. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

The licence suspension came as a surprise to fish harvesters in the community. Some told CBC News they didn't see anything out of the ordinary with the way the lobster were being held.

Quin-Sea is a well-known seafood company in the province that was purchased by the Royal Greenland group two years ago.

Lobster holding crates could be seen in the water Tuesday near Quin-Sea operations in Southern Harbour. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

It established an operation in Southern Harbour after its seafood plant in Norman's Cove-Long Cove, Trinity Bay was destroyed by fire in July 2016.

Quin-Sea manager Simon Jarding has not responded to an interview request.

About the Author

Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.