Chinese company First Catch builds state-of-the-art lobster warehouse at Halifax Airport
If there’s ever been proof that lobster is Nova Scotia’s king of seafood, it’s the new $36 million cargo facility at Halifax Stanfield International Airport.
“This increases the efficiency, capacity and opportunity to transport and export more Nova Scotia products,” said Marie Manning, Director of Business Development at Halifax International Airport Authority. .
“This not only benefits the airport, but certainly all of our stakeholders, the industry and the region itself. The economic impact is significant.”
Seafood represents 91% of the airport’s exports, with the majority being live lobster.
Last year, 12,757 tonnes of live lobster worth $293 million were airlifted from Halifax.
A Chinese company is an anchor tenant
One of the major tenants of the new logistics park is First Catch, a Chinese company that moved to Nova Scotia six years ago and is here for a long time.
“We have a 25-year lease on the building,” First Catch Vice President Lister Li told CBC News. “We want to work here in Halifax to make sure all of our lobster is of the highest quality.”
The company spent $9 million on its logistics park facilities, including a new cold room to store packaged shipments for the flight.
The highlight is the so-called lobster shower.
It will allow First Catch to store around 40 tonnes of live lobsters for long periods of time, reducing mortality in the event of flight delays or canceled orders.
“We try to solve the problems,” Li said.
The industry estimates they have about 60 hours to get a live lobster from the water to its final destination, otherwise it must be stored or cooked.
How the Lobster Shower Works
At First Catch, live lobsters can be unloaded and kept alive in plastic bins under cascading water in a closed-circulation system, the first of its kind at a Canadian airport.
The water will be drawn from a reservoir built under the building with a capacity of 378,000 litres. First Catch has a similar but much larger facility at its central airport in mainland China.
“If we can save at least two per cent of what we export to China, that’s still a lot of lobster. It’s around 200,000 pounds. So that’s a big saving,” she said.
The opening comes at a difficult time in the air charter industry due to crew shortages, competition for space and instability in Europe.
Li said chartering a cargo plane to and from China costs US$1.6 million.
Last fall, First Catch reduced its charter flights to Halifax to one a week.
Li said the company hopes to resume three charters a week when the lobster season opens in southwestern Nova Scotia later this year.
The other anchor tenant is Cargojet. The Canadian freight operator transports live lobster from Halifax to Europe and Asia.
The company said it hauls around 100 tons a week.
Andrew Leadbeater of freight management company Gateway said Halifax is positioning itself as a hub.
“The lobster has always been here. It’s just more that it comes straight out of Halifax rather than going to Toronto, Montreal via the trucks. So we have more airlines,” he said.
In recent years, he says, cargo flights for lobster have increased from one or two a week to seven – from 160 tonnes a week to around 500 tonnes.
“We skyrocketed,” he said.