Innovating the Live Seafood Supply Chain

New technologies eliminate costly air freight to distant markets

For all their hard shells and tough appearance, lobsters are fragile animals that become stressed from excessive handling, proximity to other lobsters, and fluctuations in temperature, oxygen and other aspects of their environment. This stress has a negative effect on their health. Existing methods to handle, store and transport live lobster often result in high rates of mortality and weak, poor quality lobster delivered to export markets. This is reflected in lower pricing and lost value throughout the supply chain.

In addition, harvesters in regions with relatively warm, shallow water send most of their catch to processors instead of the live product markets where they would get the highest value. To access live export markets, the warm shallow water means large amounts of water need to be treated and cooled for long term lobster storage. The energy expense makes it impractical to do so.

Yet despite these challenges, lobster and crab have surpassed tyres as Nova Scotia’s largest export, valued at $1.2 billion in 2015. This is largely driven by growing demand from overseas markets that are only accessible by air freight. Being packed in dry-ice and subjected to temperature extremes while awaiting the long expensive flight to Europe or Asia is less than ideal.

These and other factors have led Atlantic Canada entrepreneurs to develop a range of solutions. They have developed the means to manage and monitor the lobster’s environment from the point it is harvested to the point at which it is delivered to the customer, ensuring optimal health and quality. This is no small task, as it requires changes to the way lobsters are handled, stored, shipped and tracked. BioApplied support innovative companies bringing positive change to the industry, including BioNovations, LiveShip Global Seafood Logistics (LiveShip), and Sedna Technologies, all based in Atlantic Canada.

BioNovations was formed in 2005, but the company founders have been involved in the fishing industry for over 50 years. The Boudreau’s draw on their extensive experience to tackle industry issues through innovation. BioNovations have developed a highly efficient, integrated supply chain system for long term storage and transport of live lobster, called Traystor®. Traystor® uses specially designed crates that drastically reduce the volume of water needed to keep the lobster alive and healthy, reducing the energy cost required to induce hibernation.

The crates come with inserts that hold each lobster vertically in individual compartments instead of the usual communal setting, optimizing the flow of oxygenated water and eliminating the opportunity for conflict-related damage and stress. The crates can be moved directly from the boat to the purging and long term holding systems, then to a specialized container system for transport to the customer. Now, a lobster is handled only once, at sea, when it first enters the boat and is placed in the tray.

BioNovations’ Traystor® technology is also engineered into shipping containers. LiveShip Global Seafood Logistics, founded by second-generation seafood business veterans Jim and Allan Gillis, have partnered with BioNovations for this purpose. The shipping containers will allow live lobster and snow crab to be shipped long distances by land and sea, as the live products optimal health and well-being can now be managed for long periods of time. This will significantly reduce the transport cost per pound (not to mention the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions).

Sedna Technologies, founded by Sheamus MacDonald and Aleksandr Stabenow, is tackling another aspect of the live lobster export market; traceability and marketability. Sheamus has been a commercial fisherman for 15 years, and holds degrees in Aquatic Resources Management and Marine Studies; Fisheries Resource Management from St. FX University and Memorial University, respectively. Aleksandr holds a BBA from St. FX and has experience in digital strategy and the traceability of coffee, honey and other products.

The company is taking an innovate approach in applying technology and tracking concepts from other industries to live lobster. Using their licensed hardware and proprietary software, Sedna has the ability to monitor the environmental conditions of the lobster in transit, so that appropriate action can be taken if certain parameters fall outside established thresholds. If, during storage or transit, the temperature of the lobster environment rises, a truck driver or technician can be notified to fix the problem before the shipment is lost or damaged. It also includes real-time GPS tracking, so the shipper knows when the product arrives at the customer, and a crate-level RFID tag for tracking its movement in and out of the facility.

The RFID tag also shows where, when, and by whom the lobster in that create was caught, and Sedna has developed an immutable band that shows the same information for a specific lobster. This suite of information removes uncertainty and risk from the supply chain, providing confidence and accountability for the shipper, the customer and the marketplace as a whole. By utilizing Sedna’s technology, the marketplace will know which harvesters and suppliers provide a higher quality product.

The firms mentioned here, as well as others, are in the process of commercializing their respective technologies. Each technology provides a stand-alone improvement to the industry. When these technologies are combined and integrated into the supply chain, they make a compelling new standard by which harvesters, marketers, and export customers will greatly benefit. It is fitting that Atlantic Canada, with a rich fishing heritage, are taking the lead to bring these home-grown innovations to market.