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Stress-free Cape Breton lobsters sought

Veronika Brzeski, right, tests the oxygen levels inside fisherman Garren O’Neil’s lobster holding tank on July 4. O’Neil is one of the members of the Cape Breton Fish Harvesters Association who gets quality testing done by Brzeski, a marine biologist. These tests help fishermen show buyers they have top quality catches and helps them find ways to reduce loss.
Veronika Brzeski, right, tests the oxygen levels inside fisherman Garren O’Neil’s lobster holding tank on July 4. O’Neil is one of the members of the Cape Breton Fish Harvesters Association who gets quality testing done by Brzeski, a marine biologist. These tests help fishermen show buyers they have top quality catches and helps them find ways to reduce loss. - Nikki Sullivan

Quality testing began in 2013 as a way to combat low buyer prices

MAIN-À-DIEU, N.S. —

Some Cape Breton fishermen are working hard to make sure your lobster is stress free.

Veronika Brzeski, a marine biologist who works for the Cape Breton Fish Harvesters Association, said this helps improve the quality of the lobster meat.

Stress causes lactic acid buildup in the meat. Brzeski said she’s read research papers that have attributed high level of lactic acid to less taste and blanching of the meat.

This is why Brzeski can often be seen on docks, testing things like oxygen levels in holding tanks, for members of the association.

“We’re trying to see if you treat them this way, if your tank is this way, will it reduce stress for the lobsters,” she explained in between tests at Main-a-Dieu harbour.

“We’re trying to see if we can find the magic, to see if we can find the best way to store that lobster (until the buyers take it) … Cape Breton fishermen are always trying to improve the way they fish.” 

The kit Veronika Brzeski uses to test lobster catches for fishermen in area 27, who are members of the Cape Breton Fish Harvesters Association. Brzeski said they test to insure the best conditions for catches and noted quality of lobster meat is also affected by molting cycles.
The kit Veronika Brzeski uses to test lobster catches for fishermen in area 27, who are members of the Cape Breton Fish Harvesters Association. Brzeski said they test to insure the best conditions for catches and noted quality of lobster meat is also affected by molting cycles.

Although research into ways to reduce stress levels in lobster while catching and transporting to shore is relatively new, Brzeski said fishermen in lobster fishing area 27 have been testing protein levels since 2013. This helps determine quality and testing began after a tie up by some fishers in Cape Breton and P.E.I. who were protesting low prices from buyers (around $3.75 at the time.)

To prove to buyers that Cape Breton lobster is high quality and deserved higher prices, they used the testing. Since then, prices have increased and have been over $6 per pound for the last few years. Currently, prices are between $7 and $8 per pound on the island.

Garren O’Neil fishes out of Main-a-Dieu and is one of the members who gets his catches tested by Brzeski.

“Hopefully (by doing testing) we can get a better product going to market,” he said. “Better for us to keep the lobster (in the best conditions we can). The less we lose the better for us.”

Brzeski, who works at 23 ports in area 27, said there is a lot they can find out about catches but when it comes to quality the fishers can only control so much.

“There’s a lot that goes on after it’s landed. We have no control over that,” she said. “But we have control when it’s caught and it’s landed. That’s what we are working on.”

The 2019 lobster season ends in Cape Breton on July 17.

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