Atlantic ChiCan investment in Nova Scotia lobster business tops $45M
New plant will be capable of processing up to 4 million pounds of cooked lobster a year
Clark's Harbour Seafood is set to open a new $15-million lobster processing facility this month as the China-focused exporter brings its investment on Cape Sable Island in southwest Nova Scotia to more than $45 million.
The company already owns three lobster pounds on Cape Sable Island including its flagship operation, the huge Atlantic ChiCan holding facility at Newellton. About 70 per cent of live lobster it buys is exported to mainland China.
It also owns houses for workers and a restaurant.
The new plant — located in Clark's Harbour — will be capable of processing up to four million pounds of cooked lobster a year allowing the company to make money from lobster not hardy enough for lengthy live shipments, says chief operating officer John Crandall Nickerson.
"This product has to be processed or you end up losing it because it's just not a product that you would put on a long transit into any country," Nickerson said after a ribbon cutting ceremony at the new plant.
Their market includes cruise ships in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., restaurants in mainland China, other Asian countries and Europe and grocery stores.
The plant will employ 30 to 40 people when it opens, ramping up to a workforce of 80.
Electrical work on the plant remains unfinished.
He family owns business
The He family, which operates seafood processing companies in China, owns the business.
Owner Jim He is a Canadian citizen who splits his time between Vancouver and Nova Scotia.
He was in Clark's Harbour this week for the ribbon cutting. The company, He said, is Canadian.
"We want to come here to invest. We want to help the economy. We want to help the local business and to create jobs. That's our goal," He told CBC News.
"That's why we keep investing more and more money. Not elsewhere. Not Yarmouth, not Shelburne, not New Brunswick, Newfoundland. Not anywhere else. Just here. Cape Sable Island."
He estimated the family has spent between $45 million and $50 million on Cape Sable Island.
"I think it's not just about money. Some years you make good money, some years you lost a lot of money, like this year, like we lost a lot of money. But you know there's always a chance. You just need to work harder," He said.
The company has also bought up existing businesses including its Atlantic ChiCan lobster pound outside Clark's Harbour, Stoney Island Fisheries and Clark's Harbour Seafood.
Cape Sable Island is in the Municipality of Barrington which bills itself as the lobster capital of Canada.
'China is not trying to take over this lobster industry'
The company is sensitive to concerns it has too much influence over the lobster business.
Nickerson raised the issue unprompted in an interview.
"What people don't realize is that no country can control a fishery because the fishermen are in control. The only people that can own a licence or a boat is a fisherman. No matter what country buys a facility here, they can only buy lobster when the fisherman wants to sell it," Nickerson said,
"China's not trying to take over this lobster industry. China is trying to help this lobster industry.'"
Nickerson points to the impact of Chinese demand which has kept wharf prices up even as supply — lobster landings — have risen dramatically.
Nickerson acknowledges but downplays the impact of the COVID lockdown and protests in China.
"There's always concern about a market that may be shut down, but you got to remember during the height of COVID, what kept this industry going was the supermarkets."
He says processed lobster can be sold into retail stores.
"People have to eat regardless of COVID."
Company cleaned up its act
Atlantic ChiCan has been in the news twice in the last year — for the wrong reasons.
In December 2021 it was convicted and fined $50,000 for illegally shipping American lobsters, primarily to China, and claiming they came from Canada.
The shipments of 63,000 pounds of Maine lobster avoided Chinese tariffs imposed at the time on U.S. seafood.
Last month Atlantic ChiCan again pleaded guilty and was assessed $75,000 in fines and penalties for holding undersized and egg-bearing female lobsters.
The offences occurred in 2019.
"Previous people that were running the company, we got rid of those people. They're no longer in the company, they're gone," says Nickerson, who joined the company after the offences were committed.
The company has brought in quality control managers.
The conditions that created legal problems with Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are in the past, he says.
"When we knew that we had problems with the management, we did something about it."
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