- By Leo Ryan, AJOT
From its humble beginnings in 1976 as a local lobster distributor in Nova Scotia, Clearwater Seafoods Limited Partnership has become one of the world’s leading export-oriented seafood companies. Annual sales last year virtually matched 2008 revenue of C$292 million despite the global recession, according to preliminary estimates.
In 1976, entrepreneurs John Risley and Colin MacDonald began the company with a pickup truck and an optimistic vision.
MacDonald remains very much at the helm today as chairman and chief executive of a company employing some 1,400 people.
He lays considerable emphasis on environmental sustainability. “Clearwater believes that as a user of a natural renewal resource, we have a responsibility to be stewards of that resource and make decisions based on the best available science and long-term sustainability rather than short term market convenience,” McDonald stresses.
Owned by the publicly-traded Clearwater Seafood Income Fund, Clearwater Seafoods harvests, processes and markets more than 100 million pounds of seafood annually. The operations consist of harvesting premium shellfish in the offshore fisheries of Atlantic Canada and Argentina; processing shellfish onboard state-of-the-art factory vessels or in modern shore-based processing plants; and marketing and distributing premium shellfish to more than 1,300 customers in North America, Europe and Asia.
“Over the last three to five years, we have seen a shift in our main markets from the United States to Europe and Asia,” Eric Roe, chief operating officer, told AJOT.
Back in 2003, the United States accounted for nearly 50% of sales, whereas it currently represents about 25% compared with about 38% for Europe and 24% for Asia, Roe said. The Canadian domestic market absorbs approximately 15% of Clearwater products.
“We are also starting to make some inroads in the Middle East, in countries like Egypt and Dubai as well as Gulf states,” Roe indicated.
Well before the global financial crisis struck in 2008, the high Canadian dollar and sluggish US economy adversely impacted Clearwater’s sales in the United States.
Substantial Reefer Shipments
Ron Carter, Director of Logistics, oversees the whole transportation component, which includes some 1,600 reefer containers shipped annually to overseas markets by ocean carriers.
“For our overseas shipments, we use a variety of carriers calling at the Port of Halifax,” Carter said, adding that a mini-landbridge option for shipping to Asia was not presently economically-feasible.
What seafood product offers the biggest transportation challenge?
“Shipping live lobsters can be accidents waiting to happen,” he declared. “So we aim for 48-hour deliveries from airport to airport.”
For US and Canadian destinations, the company relies exclusively on trucking. Boston, California and New York are among the biggest US markets.
As demand for premium shellfish has grown, Clearwater has developed a worldwide presence. In addition to offices in the US and Canada, the firm has sales offices in the United Kingdom and Japan and four representative offices in China. It also maintains distribution facilities in Louisville, Kentucky.
The company maintains a fleet of 14 vessels. These include factory freezer vessels and trawlers that harvest Clearwater’s offshore lobster quota and a portion of its sea scallop allocation. Fleet investments exceed C$50 million
In the past five years, Clearwater has invested about C$50.4 million on its fleet alone, resulting, among other things, in greater fuel efficiency.
On top of these capital expenditures, Clearwater has spent an average of C$