The Cape Breton Fish Harvesters Association has been working since 2014 to understand and document how the quality of lobster is affected by its entire life process including the Canadian lobster fishery. From a lobster’s natural cycles to initial harvest, storage and transportation were taking samples along the way to learn and grow the Canadian seafood market.
And we are not alone. Quality is a huge project. There are many other science and fishery groups who have been working on the methodology and results of monitoring quality. Some, like the Fisherman’s Science Research Society (FSRS) have been working on lobster quality since 2004. The industry has learned a lot.
Many lobster harvesters know the value in quality. A strong healthy lobster is worth more. Maintaining quality is harder and can mean keeping handling to a minimum, being mindful of storage and the conditions put upon that animal. It can also mean understanding a lobster’s natural biological cycles. For example, moulting can be a huge stress and tremendous effort to a lobster. We know from this kind of work that quality drops right after a moult. That informs fishing seasons in different regions.
Figure 1. Blood protein levels (BRIX%) graphed over molt stage of American Lobster
A huge portion of Canadian lobster goes on to be sold in international markets and 78% of that is from Nova Scotia. We have a booming industry but we also have room for improvement. Currently, 20% of lobster die before reaching international customers. It comes down to the health of the animal and what we can do along the way to maintain that health.
While procedures are coming into place for harvesters, buyers and shippers on best handling practices, science can tell us much of what is happening inside the lobster’s body. Animal’s muscles hold sugars (glycogen). The amount of sugars stored should be high in a healthy, well rested animal. After the animal has died, the sugars turn into lactate, which firms the muscles causing rigor mortis. Lactate is what produces the meat and determines the quality of it. Stress can also kickstart the shift from sugar into lactate. Depending on the amount transferred, it can ruin the quality of the meat or cause mortality in the animal. The lobsters caught in LFA 27 can have a rigorous journey from ocean to plate and the industry is working to discover new and better ways of harvesting, holding and shipping live lobster with reduced stress, lower levels of product loss and a better product.
See below for how we do it!
Collecting Blood Samples
Lobster technicians with CBFHA are trained to carefully extract a sample of the lobsters blood and examine it to record protein levels from field in real time.
The protein count is recorded along with information about the lobster including where it was landed, its size, sex overall health and moult stage.
Collecting Pleopod Samples
The pleopod is gently snipped from the lobster and placed in seawater to be examined under the microscope. Researchers look for the "meat" and its behavior to determine what stage in a moulting cycle the lobster is currently in. This can explain a lot including a direct link to the blood protein levels.