The difficult business of transporting lobsters

It is a just-in-time operation when DSV transports lobsters.

DSV 2018 Halifax lobster

More than 400 tonnes of lobster are boxed and dispatched from DSV in Halifax throughout December. Ready for Christmas feasts and New Year’s Eve dinners – during boom times, mind you. Because lobsters are left in peace when consumers feel the pinch.

Lobster is a luxury dish, and, like other luxury items, it is easily replaced by an alternative, such as shrimp, crudités, etc., when money is tight. This enables Bryan Flinn, Branch Manager, DSV Halifax, to follow world financial trends from DSV Canada’s easternmost office in Nova Scotia, right on the Atlantic Ocean. Bryan is one of four employees supplying Europe and Asia with these blue-black crustaceans, packed live in polystyrene boxes along with frozen gel icepacks to keep the lobsters cold. And when the world economy is booming, so is Halifax, which is right in the midst of its busiest season of the year. As far as current demand dictates, Bryan does not foresee any signs of financial instability in the immediate future. 

"Since live lobster tends to be a luxury item, a rising or falling demand for the crustacean is one of the earliest signs of financial change," says Bryan Flinn, who has had almost 27 years in which to refine his economic theories, first at ABX and then DSV.

If lobster exports are sluggish, DSV Halifax takes comfort in having other products on its shelves too. Exports of Atlantic bluefin tuna are another fresh-product speciality, which usually end up on Japanese chopping boards no more than 72 hours after being pulled up from the clean, cold waters of the Atlantic. The fish weigh between 100 and 400 kg and most are sold at auctions throughout Japan.

Two hours can make all the difference

Like tuna exports, the handling of live, freshly-caught lobsters is a just-in-time operation where “two hours make all the difference”. Once they are caught, lobsters are stored in a dormant state of sorts, induced by placing the lobster in artificial salt-water basins where the water temperature is strictly controlled. Under these conditions, lobsters do not require feeding and burn a minimum of energy – just as they would in the wild during colder winter months. When the time comes to transport them, they are removed from their basins and continue their journey in specially-designed polystyrene boxes. This is when it becomes crucial for operations to run like clockwork:

"This is the ultimate just-in-time operation, because although the lobsters are packed in cooling boxes, they cannot endure hours of waiting just because we missed the pick-up upon arrival at an airport. For instance, if we land in Brussels at 1 am then it’s perfect. But at 3 am we’ll have missed the next distribution step, and we’ve got a significant problem on our hands. Those two hours can make all the difference," says Bryan Flinn.

Supplying the rest of the world with live lobster and fresh fish is a unique discipline, but it is not all that DSV Halifax handles. They are a full-service office handling various other commodities such as textiles, simulators, fur shipments, machine parts, electronic equipment, etc.

"We have had some of the same customers for more than 20 years, but each day can be different and each season poses new and varying challenges. For employees new to the perishable business, the first year can be a steep learning curve. Organised, intelligent and quick-thinking employees who thrive under the pressure to perform each and every day excel in this industry. To that end, we are looking for self-motivated employees with the drive to be successful and the determination to further grow the business. This is an industry where an individual with the right mindset can have a huge impact. These will be the qualities required in my eventual successor."

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