Nova Scotia MP questions Chinese ‘control’ over lobster industry

Nova Scotia MP worries about China’s growing ‘influence and control’ over the province’s lobster industry supply chain, particularly at Halifax Stanfield International Airport .

The Halifax International Airport Authority denies the claim. And a major Chinese seafood exporter – whose influence is questioned – called him “kind of a racist”.

“Overall, my concern is China’s growing influence and control of our lobster industry itself and that’s all along the supply chain,” said Rick Perkins, the Tory MP. of South Shore-St. Margarets, where the lobster fishery is the backbone of the economy.

“They’re doing through the back door what they couldn’t do through the front door, which was basically [to] hold the actual fishing licenses. They can’t do that, so they try to control purchases and exports at the airport,” Perkins said.

Perkins recently raised the issue before a parliamentary committee examining foreign ownership and corporate concentration in Canada’s commercial fishery.

“What about China? I know, for example, on the South Shore, I see China buying our buyers. What is the impact of that? I also understand that they control the freight forwarder at the Halifax airport,” Perkins asked Colin Sproul, an inshore fishermen’s representative appearing before the committee.

Federal Conservative Fisheries Critic Rick Perkins is the Member of Parliament for South Shore-St. Margarets in Nova Scotia. (Radio Canada)

“I’m really happy to hear you raise this. I think one of the most important things the government can do is ensure Canadian national control of our supply chain inside the country,” replied Sproul.

Perkins said “non-Chinese lobster buyers” in southwestern Nova Scotia are forced to truck lobster to Moncton and New York airports “due to foreign control. of the live seafood terminal in Halifax”.

Perkins is referring to First Catch, the Chinese export company that has spent $9 million on its own lobster handling facilities at Halifax Airport’s new Air Cargo Logistics Park, where it is an anchor tenant with a 25 year lease.

Under federal law, only independent Canadian owner-operator fishers are allowed to fish for lobster. But there are no foreign ownership restrictions on the sale of existing onshore plants, although there is a moratorium on the issuance of new shellfish buyer and processing permits.

Lister Li, president of First Catch, told CBC News she understands “people will be nervous” but fears of Chinese control are unfair, saying no one is questioning US ownership of the companies. lobster.

“I think it’s because recently a lot of Chinese people are buying plants and then trying to get into this industry,” she said. “But by Chinese, I think these people are just Asian. So maybe Canadian. Maybe they have a Canadian passport. Maybe they grew up here. That’s a bit racist.”

“We don’t control all lobster handling in Halifax”

First Catch also charters flights to China and has a stake in a cargo handling company, Summit Ground Services.

“That’s not a fact. We don’t control all of the lobster handling in Halifax. We just do what we ship,” Li said.

Li lives in Canada and says the shares of the company are transferred to him, making First Catch a “Canadian company”.

A woman wearing a safety vest stands in front of a library.
Lister Li is president of First Catch. (Radio Canada)

Li and the Halifax International Airport Authority say live lobster shippers have other options for shipping freight, aircraft and ground handling in Halifax.

Live lobster is trucked to Moncton — which is on track to record a record year for lobster cargo exports in 2023 — mainly because fares are cheaper for connecting flights to China, Li says. .

First Catch has sublet Purolator’s former building at the airport until 2025 and it is not available for use by other shippers and freight forwarders.

Long term strategy

This is not to exclude them, says First Catch general manager Yuchen Ji, but it is part of a long-term strategy.

“The idea is that we have this new building for our lobster export [in the logistics park]but this building will be used in the future…for imports from China, Korea, for other countries, to Halifax, which we plan to make Halifax airport a hub for that purpose said Ji, a graduate of Dalhousie University.

In the meantime, First Catch has rented space there to others.

A man with dark hair and glasses wears a gray jacket with a black shirt.  He is standing in a warehouse.
Yuchen Ji is a graduate of Dalhousie University and CEO of First Catch. (Radio Canada)

Perkins alleges the company favors China-related buyers to leave Halifax. This is another charge that First Catch denies.

“This statement is not true. We are not able to control air cargo because we are not a freight forwarder. We are only a seafood exporter,” Ji said.

“When we’re running our own charter and our charter isn’t full, we have a freight forwarder we go to, so they can share that space with the markets, basically anyone in Nova Scotia.”

Strong demand for lobster in China

China’s appetite for lobster has exploded over the past decade, making it the second largest export destination after the United States.

It’s the result of a growing Chinese middle class, provincial trade missions and an industry pivot to supply the new market, which has been further spurred by a Trump-era trade war with China that resulted in huge tariffs on American seafood.

Canadian live lobster shipments to China, mostly from Nova Scotia, were worth more than $450 million in 2022.

Lobster boxes in a warehouse.
Lobster shipment at First Catch in Halifax. (Radio Canada)

Nearly 16,000 tonnes of lobster – valued at $293 million – passed through Halifax Stanfield in 2022, according to the airport. First Catch accounted for about 14% of exports.

Chinese demand for “dragon shrimp”, as it is sometimes called, has been a boon to Atlantic Canadian lobster fishermen, keeping prices up even as landings have increased.

Chinese-owned or related companies have moved closer to the resource, buying up existing lobster factories in Nova Scotia, starting in 2014 when Chinese giant Zoneco bought a lobster pound in Eastern Passage, near from Halifax.

Other shipping options

Veteran lobster buyer Stewart Lamont of Tangier Lobster says First Catch does not control lobster shipments to China, as there are many other options available at the Halifax airport.

“My answer is no. A foreign entity that has invested substantial investment here in Nova Scotia is part of the overall puzzle. it is inappropriate.”

Lamont says his company submits the prices it is willing to pay to First Catch for the lobster it sends to China. Both parties can accept them, negotiate them or reject them.

“Our company, we call ourselves lobster travel agents. We decide who we sell to, at what price we sell. And what logistics options we offer to get the goods to the international market,” he told CBC News.

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