Fact Sheet for Atlantic Lobster
American Lobster, Northern Lobster
Lobster is Canada’s most valuable seafood export, contributing as much as $1 billion in export sales. In many ways, lobster is Canada’s ambassador to the world and one of the exports most closely associated with this country. Consumers in 55 countries from Australia to Vietnam and all points around the globe enjoy lobster from Canada.
Seasons and Distribution
In Canada, lobster is harvested and processed throughout the Atlantic provinces (Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island) and Quebec. Landings peak twice a year, once in the period from April to June when the spring season opens, and then again in December after the winter fishery opens in southwestern Nova Scotia.
Licensed lobster fishers use small boats to fish with baited, wooden-frame or plastic-coated steel-mesh traps which are weighted and lowered to the sea bottom. The traps are hauled by ropes attached to brightly painted buoys which mark their location. Most of the lobster fishery takes place relatively close to shore, but there are eight vessels which fish the deep basins and outer banks off southwestern Nova Scotia. They fish year round under a 720 tonne quota and are not permitted to fish closer than 92 km from shore.
Lobsters grow by moulting, or shedding their shell. After a moult (typically in summer), the lobster is soft-shelled and filled with the sea water it has absorbed in the process. Up to two months pass before the absorbed sea water is replaced by new lobster meat. As the shell hardens in the cold waters of the North Atlantic, the meat’s texture and taste improve and the lobster acquires a denser, fuller feel.
Atlantic Canada’s staggered fishing seasons are designed to protect summer moults which allows the industry to deliver the hard-shelled, full-meated lobster valued by consumers. The waters of Atlantic Canada are divided into 41 Lobster Fishing Areas or LFAs (see map), each with its own season, varying in length from eight weeks to eight months. This seasonal effort is complemented by new and innovative techniques in holding and processing lobster. Traditionally, live lobsters excess to market demand are held in pounds (large, fenced areas of the ocean) but recently huge dry-land holding facilities pioneered in Atlantic Canada have made possible a three-million-pound live inventory of the region’s best lobsters. As a result, buyers around the world are guaranteed a secure, year-round supply of top-quality lobsters from Canada.
Often called the “King of Seafood,” the lobster is the pride of Atlantic Canada. This crustacean has a long body and five sets of legs, including two large front claws, one of which is large, flat and heavy while the other is smaller and thinner. The body and tail and claws are hard-shelled. Live lobsters range in colour from brownish-rust to greenish-brown; all lobster shells turn bright orangey-red when cooked. The white flesh is pleasantly firm and dense with a rich, savoury flavour. Live lobsters should be active and their tails should curl, not dangle, beneath them.
Lobster Product Forms
In general, larger lobsters are sold into the fresh/live market where they command premium prices, while smaller lobsters are cooked and either frozen whole in “popsicle packs” or shelled for meat. Most of the lobsters caught in the waters of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Quebec go to the live market. The lobster-processing industry is concentrated in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.
Live: Lobsters are packed in lined cardboard or styrofoam boxes with gel packs used as a coolant. Individual lobsters range from 454 to more than 2270 grams (1 lb. to 5+ lbs.)
Frozen whole cooked lobster in brine: Lobsters are cooked, graded and packed in laminated pouches with brine, sealed and blast frozen (10 per case). This product is sometimes referred to as a “popsicle pack.”
Frozen whole blanched lobster: Lobster is cooked for two minutes, then vacuum packed and frozen immediately. Cooking is completed by end user for a fresh-boiled taste.
Frozen whole lobster, blanched or cooked in vacuum skin pack: This specialized technology allows for an extended shelf life of 24 months.
Frozen raw lobster tails: Tails individually quick frozen (IQF), individually wrapped in cellophane pouch, layer packed in 4.5 kg box (4 boxes per master). Weight: 85-225 g or 3-8 oz.
Frozen whole cooked lobster: Lobsters are cooked and vacuum-packed in light brine or wrapped in waxed paper. Smaller weights (200-250 g), known as “baby boils,” are cooked in a liner, frozen and packed in 5 kg cartons.
Frozen lobster meat: Available canned and blast frozen, canned and retorted, or vacuum-packed and blast frozen. Vacuum packs are available in different meat combinations: whole pieces, chopped and salad meat; tails, claws, tails/claw and claw/knuckle. Package sizes vary according to customer specifications.
Minced lobster loaf: Deboned lobster body meat, packed in poly bags or vacuum packed and frozen.
Cocktail claws: These are pre-scored and steam-cooked in food service and consumer packs.
Tomalley and roe: Tomalley (liver, the light-green creamy substance found in the lobster’s body) and roe (the female eggs, sometimes called “coral”) are available in several specialty packs.
Lobster base: A concentrate used in the preparation of soups, bisques, sauces and fillings.
Lobster is amazingly versatile and every part of the animal can be put to a variety of culinary uses. The empty shells can be used in bisques or for lobster au gratin; the tomalley provides extraordinary flavour for spreads, butters, sauces or dips; the coral presents an unusually colourful garnish for hors d’oeuvres or salads, while the claws make an extravagant statement atop a salad. A whole lobster, steamed and served with drawn butter, is a feast fit for a king.
There is virtually no limit to the uses that can be made of the meat. Served hot, it adds an unmistakable taste of luxury to casseroles, stir-fries, stuffings, sauces, bisques, omelettes, soufflés, quiches, crêpes and many other dishes. Cold, it is elegant in salads, hors d’oeuvres and in the famous “down-East” lobster roll.
The great variety of product forms available from Canadian lobster processors assists buyers and consumers in identifying the correct product for each application.
Lobster Terms Glossary
Banding: A strong elastic is placed around the claws of live lobster for safe handling and to preserve quality.
Berried Lobster: A female with eggs under her tail. Under Canadian law, these must be returned to the water.
Brine: Salt water used to cushion and insulate a whole cooked lobster in a cello sleeve (a “popsicle pack”).
Canners: A small lobster, weighing approximately 170 to 454 grams (½ to 1 lb.)
Carapace: Body shell, measured from the back of the eye socket to the end of the shell to determine legal size.
Chixs (chickens): Lobster weighing approximately 454-500 grams (1.0 – 1 1/8 lb.)
Cold pack: Frozen lobster meat, packed in cans, not retorted. Frozen storage is required.
Coral: Internal roe or eggs.
Crusher: The larger of the two claws.
Cull: A lobster with one or no claws, normally sold at a lower price.
Deuces: Lobsters weighing 900-1135 grams (2-2.5 lb.)
Halves: Lobster weighing 680 to 800 grams (1.5 to 1.75 lb.)
Hard Shell: A lobster whose shell has fully hardened after moulting. Hard-shelled lobsters yield 50-60% more meat than soft-shell or shedders.
Hot Pack: Canned lobster, retorted and shelf stable.
Jumbos: Whole lobsters weighing more than 1135 grams (2.5 lb.) Jumbos are graded as small (1135-1475 grams or 2.5-3.25 lb.), medium (1475-2270 grams or 3.25-5lb.) and large (2270 grams + or over 5 lb.)
LFA: Lobster Fishing Area; regions in Atlantic Canada where lobster fishing is open at specific times of the year (seasons). The division into LFAs allows control of the harvest. Minimum size of lobsters also varies from area to area.
Markets: A size category for lobsters weighing 454 grams and up, usually destined for the live market.
Pincher claw: The smaller claw.
Popsicle pack: Term used to describe a whole cooked lobster, packed in brine in a cello sleeve and frozen.
Pound: A storage area for holding live lobsters.
Quarters: Lobster weighing 570 to 680 grams (1.25 to 1.5 lb.)
Seasons: Specific periods in the year when a particular area or region can be fished.
Selects: Lobster weighing 800 to 900 grams (1.75 to 2.0 lbs.)
Shedders: Lobster in the moult or soft-shell stage of growth.
Soft Shell: A lobster after it moults or sheds its hard shell to facilitate growth. During this soft-shell period, meat yield is low, and meat texture and flavour poor.
Trap: A cage-like structure used to catch lobster alive.
Tomalley: Green-coloured liver used to flavour spreads and sauces.
Safety and Wholesomeness Assured
Canada has one of the world’s most respected fish inspection and control systems. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) sets the policies, requirements and inspection standards for fish products, federally registered fish and seafood processing establishments, importers, fishing vessels, and equipment used for handling, transporting and storing fish. All establishments which process fish and seafood for export or inter-provincial trade must be federally registered and must develop and implement a HACCP-based Quality Management Program (QMP) plan. A processing establishment’s QMP plan outlines the controls implemented by the fish processor to ensure that all fish products are processed under sanitary conditions, and that the resulting products are safe and meet all regulatory requirements. Canada’s fish-inspection and control system contributes to Canada’s worldwide reputation for safe, wholesome fish and seafood products. Buyers can be assured that seafood from Canada will continue to meet the increasingly rigorous safety and wholesomeness standards required by the world’s major seafood markets.