Nova Scotia

Seafood buyers, processors want Halifax airport facility expanded

A group that represents 66 companies that buy or process seafood in Nova Scotia has urged provincial politicians to lobby Ottawa for funding to expand air freight capacity at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

N.S. lobster often shipped overseas from Boston because Halifax facility can’t handle volume

Seafood buyers and processors say there's not enough capacity at the Halifax airport to handle airfreight volumes. (CBC)

People who enjoy seafood want it fresh whether they live in Seabright or Shanghai, which is why a group that represents seafood buyers and processors urged provincial politicians Thursday to lobby for the expansion of the cargo facility at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

"If you're talking about a live product, it has to go on an airplane," Leo Muise, executive director of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance, told a legislature committee.

Muise said the facility at the airport cannot handle the amount of live lobster that needs to be shipped during peak demand periods such as Christmas and Chinese New Year.

"It's probably an opportunity lost more than it is a frustration," said Muise.

On its website, Gateway, which has cargo facilities at the airport, boasts about having a 7,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse it claims is "the largest facility of its kind north of Miami."

'Every minute counts'

That's big, but not big enough, according to Muise, who told the all-party committee that some of his group's 66 member companies have had to find other ways to get their shipments to Asian markets.

"There's just not enough capacity to move the amount of product that has to be moved on any individual day and the result is that product is then trucked to other airports like Logan, like New York, like Toronto to be put in airplanes there," he said.

Osborne Burke, who runs Victoria Co-operative Fisheries out of Neils Harbour, echoed that sentiment. 

Osborne Burke is the president and general manager of Victoria Co-operative Fisheries, based in Neils Harbour. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

"The Gateway in Halifax does what they can with what flights they have, but a significant portion of lobsters that come in there are reloaded on trucks to Toronto and Montreal and down the highway and into Boston to be airfreighted," said Burke. 

He told the politicians that having Nova Scotia lobster shipped from Boston is counterproductive to the province's efforts to market our homegrown industry.

"Hence our continual challenge in Asia to make them understand that Boston lobster doesn't really come from Boston. It's Nova Scotia lobster that was driven down to Boston and put on a flight," said Burke.

Nova Scotia lobster is often sent to places such as Boston and New York to get shipped overseas. (CBC)

That problem is compounded right now by the fact the ferry from Digby to Saint John, N.B., is undergoing needed repairs so there's no service until the end of March.

According to Muise, that ferry route is "critical." 

"It saves about six hours of driving time. With a live product that's going to New York or Boston, every minute counts," he told the committee.

Airport authority wants a logistics park

Carole Rankin, a spokesperson for the Halifax International Airport Authority, said there are capacity challenges during certain times of the year, but it's limited to certain days of the week during peak season, specifically December through to the Chinese New Year.

Rankin said that in 2017, $220 million in seafood exports were shipped from the airport.

She said the airport authority is working to increase its capacity for processing cargo. Last year, the airport authority submitted an application for funding from a Transport Canada program for the creation of a logistics park "to connect commercial and logistics businesses in Atlantic Canada to air cargo opportunities spanning the globe," Rankin said in an email. 

The plan for the 25-acre site would include a cargo handling building and another one to be built later, an "apron" large enough to accommodate up to four air cargo freighters simultaneously, loading areas and a de-icing facility.

"In our current situation we do have capacity to do more, however, the challenge lies in scheduling. We appreciate our partners drawing attention to a growing opportunity at Halifax Stanfield," said Rankin.

Climate change study needed

The Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance would also like to see the province fund a study of the effects of climate change on their industry.

Muise, a self-described climate change skeptic-turned-believer, said government focus to date has been on land, not water.

Leo Muise is the executive director of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

"The Federation of Agriculture was given a million dollars in December to study the effects of climate change on dike lands and things of that nature and we were given nada," he said. "For God's sake, I think we've had two hurricanes since Christmas — only we don't call them hurricanes in the wintertime, we just call them nor'easters."

Beyond those major issues, Kerry Cunningham, manager of Sea Star Seafoods, wanted something a little less tangible.

Kerry Cunningham is the manager of Sea Star Seafoods. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

"I wish we ... were appreciated," he told the committee at the end of the group's presentation. "If we got the appreciation of what we do, or the love, if you call it that, that Iceland and Norway gives to their fishing industry instead of saying we're the bad guys.

"It would mean something if Nova Scotia embraced the fishery."