There is an excellent article in The Economist this week about Maine and the rapid increase in the export of baby eels – earning as much as $5,700/kilo. Think about that the next time you are haggling about 50 cents per kilo on the price of lobsters.
I checked the numbers and New Brunswick eel exports are on the rise but at a much more restrained level rising from $3.1 millioni in 2007 to $15 million in 2011. Still, using standard multipliers for the sector this means more than 100 FTE jobs/year in the province – not an amount to snub your nose at.
The reality is that Asian, Eastern European and other country tastes for what we would consider exotic are considerable and rising disposible income is creating vast new markets. The mink industry in Nova Scotia is now a $200 million business per year – in a rural area that is benefiting from the boom.
In an age of increasing global competition it is important to find your niches. Most people chafe at the idea of mink farming but it is supporting a large wedge of the economy in the Digby-Yarmouth region. And they have been working with the province to address the concerns over the waste which will now be converted into energy to fuel a local public building.
I don’t want to get into a debate about seals or mink or even eels but I remain uncomfortable that we are not as deliberate as we should about agriculture/aquaculture/fishing and carving out niche markets. Are there specific products that are in rapidly growing demand that grow particularly well in our climate and with our soil?
As I discovered about the mining sector, there is very little alignment with folks in economic development who prefer the sexier ICT, aerospace, etc. But natural resources – both renewable and non-renewable should be part of the mix. We have a very large portion of our workforce that is at a skills and literacy level that rules them out for most high end knowledge-based jobs. Over time we need to address this (more about this coming in my TJ column this week) but if we ignore development now in industries where these foks are best able to contribute we hurt them and the economy.
PS – Did this rapid rise in eel exports get covered in the media? I didn’t see it but it would be – I think – a good story.