Canada's seafood industry is making a comeback thanks largely to growing exports to Asia, and China in particular.
Trade numbers released by Statistics Canada on Wednesday showed that exports of seafood products jumped nearly 130 per cent in June from May.
That helped drive overall exports of consumer goods up by 17 per cent to a record $6-billion for the month.
"Prepared and packaged seafood products … comprised almost 30 per cent of the growth in the consumer goods section, and thus had a relevant impact on the gains in the consumer goods section over all," said Nita Boushey, an analyst at Statistics Canada. She added that the June gain follows four consecutive months of decline for these products.
A good chunk of those exports have been heading to Asia. Data provided by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans showed lobster exports to Asia, specifically to China, have nearly doubled in recent years, rising to 4.7 million kilograms' worth of product valued at $76-million in 2014. That compared with 2.7 million kilograms of product worth $42-million in 2013.
In total, Canada exported $4.9-billion of fish and seafood products in 2014, an increase of $517-million from the previous year; and 85 per cent of all fish landed by Canadian harvesters was exported.
Seafood companies are benefiting from a lower dollar and rising demand.
Fishing restrictions in some parts of the world have also led to a reduction in supply. As a result, some seafood suppliers are pushing up prices by as much as 30 per cent and the wholesale price for Norwegian cod has increased nearly 26 per cent this year.
On Tuesday, Clearwater Seafoods Inc. of Bedford, N.S., cited the falling value of the dollar and soaring demand for a jump in its profit.
Clearwater specializes in scallops, clams, cold water shrimps and lobster. And the company has seen a nearly 33-per-cent increase in demand for its products from China on a year-to-date basis. The company sells species both live and "raw frozen" – a high-end product that is not precooked. It has been a hot commodity for China's growing middle class.
"The overriding story is what's been going on with protein pricing, and you're seeing that in our results," said a Clearwater spokesperson. "Proteins have been going up and you're seeing that in seafood. We are in the niche market in seafood. We're playing at the high end of the market where protein prices are generally going up."
While companies such as Clearwater make gains on higher demand and increased prices, others are feeling the heat.
"The results for the second quarter did not meet our expectations," Keith Decker, president and chief executive officer of High Liner Foods Inc., said on a conference call Wednesday after the Lunenburg, N.S., frozen seafood company reported its second-quarter earnings. The company – whose sales declined by $9.2-million (U.S.), or 3.9 per cent – cited an increase in the cost of key species in 2013 and 2014, as well as weaker sales and volume declines, rising raw material costs in 2014, and the weaker Canadian dollar.
In January, the company closed its operations in a Massachusetts facility to reduce excess capacity.