Eastern Fish Markets
For hundreds of years the waters off the coast of Newfoundland have provided a bountiful harvest for those who call Canada’s easternmost province home. The area is said to be home of some of the world’s finest shellfish, with the Atlantic waters helping to create some of the heartiest, healthiest lobsters available on the market. Since 1980, Eastern Fish Markets (EFM) has been helping to bring this bounty to customers across the globe from its headquarters in Carmanville, Newfoundland.
Founded 36 years ago by Wayne Wheaton, EFM started out trading in dried squid before moving into salmon and lobster the following season. The company built its reputation on these products for another 10 years and expanded into ground fish before the market ground to a halt in the early 90s owing to the closure of Atlantic salmon, Atlantic cod and other ground fish.
It was then that Wheaton took the biggest risk of his career, redoubling his efforts while many in the industry were pulling out and building his own dock and facility in 1999. With new and improved infrastructure behind the business, EFM was able to expand into live lobsters, herring, crabs, pelagic and most recently, cod.
A focus on fresh
Today, Wheaton sees live lobster as the next big growth opportunity for the company. “I predicted that a few years ago and I’m more convinced than ever, so we’re doing everything we can to support that part of the business,” says Wheaton, president and CEO of EFM.
To that end, Wheaton has invested in a complete on-shore holding tank for live lobsters. These tanks give EFM the ability to control the water’s temperature and oxygen levels, allowing the company to maximize output while ensuring the freshest possible product. The live tanks have been a boon to the company so far, and Wheaton says there are plans in the works to expand that side of the operation.
The tanks also allow EFM to hold on to live lobsters for as long as 90 to 100 days after the harvesting season has ended, giving the company a decided advantage in the market and allowing EFM to serve customer as far afield as South Korea.
“Not only does that serve the lobster business well, but we’re also in the live eel business and one species’ season basically follows on the heels of the other one, so we get to do it all over again with eels,” he says. “This holds great appeal for customers because they know it’s fresh and the best of the best.”
While fresh seafood is not yet the industry standard among producers in the region, Wheaton wants to ensure that EFM is ahead of the curve when it comes to integrating the latest and greatest technology and best practices into the business.
“Newfoundland and Labrador have a tremendous volume of frozen product, but the trend is leaning more and more toward fresh and live. We’ve not only marketed live crab on a smaller scale but we have also witnessed halibut going to fresh over frozen too,” Wheaton says.
A future cod fishery must be based on a consistent supply of high quality product available for all or most of the year and to quote the latest move to a cod management plan that works for the future. “The committee clearly states that fresh and once frozen fish is a much more valuable product fetching a minimum triple the price of block cod,” Wheaton chirps. “I've been saying that about such species as lobster, eels and halibut for a number of years.”
Building a brand
In a bid to further differentiate itself in the marketplace, EFM recently began branding the company’s lobsters as Newfoundland Wild Lobsters. The name is intended as a means of distinguishing the product from its Atlantic Canadian cousin, which Wheaton sees as an inferior offering.
Steps have already been taken to brand eels. Just recently the company entered into a five year agreement to market eels with a partner in Atlantic Canada. A branding effort is well along the way to focus sales under the brand River Wild. This partnership will allow access to parts of Western Europe and East Asia, not to mention the overwhelming presence of the oldest eel procurement company 'Delaware Valley Fish Company'.
As the business continues to evolve, sales have improved accordingly, 2015 represented EFM's best year on record from a gross sales standpoint, and Wheaton expects the ever-improving product line will only engender further growth.
While the fishing industry in Newfoundland employs over 20,000 workers, it can be difficult to convince a younger, next-generation workforce to enter the market. Currently, EFM is composed of an even 50-50 split between older and younger workers, which Wheaton says will be important as the company turns increasingly toward technological solutions to age-old problems.
“The newer employees are technology savvy and the two fit like a hand in glove. The younger guys that come in really have something to offer and without the commitment and conviction of the younger employees in the workforce, we’d probably be a little bit behind,” he says.
With a new live lobster and eel holding tank, expanded species offering and a new, younger workforce helping to ensure the future success of the company, Eastern Fish Markets is poised to enjoy continued success as a worldwide exporter of fresh Newfoundland seafood and shellfish.