Chinese seafood giant takes over Eastern Passage lobster plant

Feeding China's booming middle-class population has led to a major investment in Nova Scotia's lobster industry by a large Chinese seafood company.

Zhangzidao Group expected to spend between $1.5 and $2M on upgrades at Capital Seafoods

Jack Liu, left, and Ray He of the Zhangzidao Group check out some Nova Scotian lobster. (CBC)

Feeding China's booming middle-class population has led to a major investment in Nova Scotia's lobster industry by a large Chinese seafood company.

The Zhangzidao Group said it expects to export between 2.3 to 4.5 million kilograms of Nova Scotia lobster to China in the next year and spend millions of dollars on new holding and processing facilities in the province.

"We are here for the long term," said Jack Liu, the president of North American operations for the company.

He said the company will be part of the community and will bring investment and employment.

"We will be sponsoring hockey teams," Liu said with a smile.

On Monday, company officials were in Eastern Passage where a newly-created subsidiary — Capital Seafoods International — has taken over an existing plant.

"It means full time work for us," said Reg Hartlen, the plant manager and a director of Capital Seafoods.

He said the plant has been running with 12 people and expects it will soon employ 40 to 50 people.

The Zhangzidao Group is expected to spend between $1.5 million and $2 million on upgrades at its Eastern Passage facility. The company said it will spend up to $5 million more on another holding facility, likely in southwestern Nova Scotia.

Lobster exports up

Exports of Nova Scotia lobster to China have risen dramatically this year. By August, the amount had hit $55 million — already surpassing the $49-million value of lobster exports for all of last year.

John Nickerson, a buyer for Capital Seafoods, said the entry of the Chinese firm into Nova Scotia is an opportunity the industry hasn't had in recent years.

"What it means is 1,300,000,000 people are now in the market looking for our lobster," he said.

He said fishermen will benefit.

"The fishermen, who risk their lives in a lot of cases, are going to be paid a price that makes them want to get up in the morning and go to work," Nickerson said.

Based in Dalian, China, the Zhangzidao Group started as a fisheries co-op 50 years ago. It has grown into an Asian powerhouse worth more than $2 billion.

Jack Liu of the Zhangzidao Group said his company will be in Nova Scotia for the long term and wants to be part of the community. (CBC)

Liu said the company wants to ship six days a week, year round from Nova Scotia. The challenge is getting the product to China, rather than sales in China.

"We have an army of salespeople on the ground. We will simply add lobster into our existing sales channels to customers," he said.

Liu and other officials say the bottleneck is likely going to be getting lobster out of the Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

"In some cases — and I won't mention airlines — they are decreasing airlift and increasing prices when they should be doing quite the opposite," said Nickerson.

The Zhangzidao Group said it plans to go well beyond just taking lobster from Nova Scotia.

"We will expand into other species, local species as well. For example, sea urchins, haddock, cod, halibut, to bring more value to the local community and the local resource," said Liu.