Homarus Canadianus loses lobster name game

Canadian lobster may have to masquerade for European market

Steve Sharratt comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on February 27, 2015
Canadian lobster

Canadian lobster will have to masquerade as Americans once again if Maritime seafood is going to gain access into one of the most lucrative marketplaces in the world.

And all because of three European countries that say no and a language scarcely used by anyone but the Pope.

The fishing industry is anxious to gain access to the 28 countries of Europe, but the European Union requires that lobster must be identified by its Latin name — namely “Homarus Americanus” or American lobster.

Needless to say, countless Canadian industry officials are not impressed with the identity crisis as packaging orders are being placed for the upcoming spring season.

“Time has run out for lobster processors (in Atlantic Canada)  and they are giving in to the confusion and placing orders to put ‘American lobster’ on their products,’’ says one Island processor.

“All the time and effort that has been spent on marketing and promoting Canadian lobster now goes down the drain.”

Some might argue a name is just a name, but it’s a topic that didn’t seem that tricky a year ago when negotiations began, especially when at least 20 other countries approved the change to “Homarus Canadianus”.  So far Germany, Sweden and Italy, for various reasons, are holding out on a label change to specify a Canadian product.

However, with the spring fishing season pending, some processors are capitulating with the American designation to ensure access to the lucrative marketplace of 740 million people.

The labelling designation currently faces all processed (popsicle pack) lobster, but officials say the impersonation will just as easily spread to the live market as well.

That has many fishermen worried because while U.S. lobsters can be caught year round, the Canadian system of short seasons is acclaimed for producing the superior product. And Maritime fishermen are currently in the throes of establishing a penny a pound levy to help create a marketing fund to promote Atlantic Canadian lobster.

“Lobster is Canada’s most valuable seafood export and our government will continue to strongly advocate at every level so our exporters can brand their products as Canadian,” said federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea, who will address the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association annual meeting today at the Delta Prince Edward in Charlottetown.

Officials are scrambling to either get the label ruling for “Homarus Canadianus” approved, or a decision reversed by some major processors willing to go with the American identification on their packaging.

“It’s a very big concern for us as we try to brand P.E.I. lobster,’’ said Craig Avery, president of the PEIFA.

“If this is not changed, we would have to put “Homarus Americanus” on our labels and we support the processors in their quest for “Homarus Canadianus.”

Homarus Americanus – to designate Atlantic lobster – was conjured up in 1837 by Belgium born French zoologist Henri-Milne Edwards.

“It’s an EU rule, but that doesn’t mean the industry can’t put a big maple leaf on the pack or whatever,’’ suggested Sophie Doucet, director of communications with Shea.

Geoff Irvine of the Lobster Council of Canada said changing the commercial designation has required individual applications to each of the EU countries over the past year and the majority have complied.

“The major packers (here) have agreed to use the required name "American lobster" on their packaging for one more year with the hope that we will have the other three countries onside by next winter,” he said.