Operation Pincer: bid to put Bridlington on the map as Europe's lobster capital

The first thing which greets visitors to Shediac in New Brunswick is a giant 90-tonne lobster.

The giant lobster which greets visitors to Shediac in New Brunswick

The resplendent 16ft high pink and black statue, by Canadian artist Winston Bronnum spawns thousands of selfies.

It does a great job of promoting the town - which has a population of just 6,500 - as the "lobster capital of the world", attracting 300,000 visitors a year.

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A group of fishing industry representatives from Bridlington and academics visited the town in January as part of was jokingly dubbed "Operation Pincer".

A pair of freshly caught lobsters Picture: James Hardisty

Researchers from Hull University Business School have been looking at what lessons can be learned from places like Shediac and how to put them into play in East Yorkshire.

Few people realise that Bridlington is Europe's lobster capital, or that the majority of the delicious shellfish landed in the port ends up gracing the tables of restaurants and hotels in Spain, France and Portugal instead.

Visitors eating out in Bridlington's restaurants are likely to be tucking into Canadian lobster.

"When you go to France and sit in Bordeaux having lobster and a glass of wine, that Breton Bleu has probably come from Bridlington," says Dr David Harness, senior lecturer in marketing at Hull University Business School.

Dr David Harness, Senior Lecturer In Marketing at Hull University Business School

Dr Harness believes promoting the shellfish industry could help people make the decision to turn right at the roundabout on the coast road - rather than left towards Scarborough.

"Billing Bridlington as the lobster capital is a way of doing that," he said.

"Since 1947 people in Shediac have been building a lobster festival, a lobster reputation, calling themselves the lobster capital of Canada and they have spent a lot of time and effort building the brand.

"Their lobster festival is renowned. People go from all over the US and Canada for those two weeks in late July, early August. They have a competition to see who can make the largest lobster roll."

Shellfishboat Elsie B moored up beside the rest of the fleet in Bridlington Harbour Picture: James Hardisty

Having people believe that branding Bridlington as the lobster capital of Europe "makes sense", that it can generate footfall, increase spending, and create an all-year-round season for the town, is key.

He said: "I think it has to be owned by Bridlington.The majority have to believe branding it as lobster capital of Europe makes sense both in terms of reputation and how it will generate footfall and interest in that location.

"It's about building infrastructure with a purpose and its aim is to get people to come to the town to visit, make them walk around and spend money."

A steering committee has been set up and they are now in the early stages of working up a five-year plan.

Dr Harness first became involved in research after being asked by fishermen and members of the Fisheries Local Action Group to see if they could improve on the price they were getting for lobster.

Currently, the port mainly exports crab and lobster to Italy, Portugal, France and increasingly the Far East, especially China.

Those nations “value the quality of the product and it goes for a much higher price,” according to Dr Harness.

In the UK, however, people are conditioned to cheap supermarket prices for frozen Canadian lobster.

There is a market for fresh products - but only high-end restaurants and hotels, which make a big point of selling local and fresh.

The researchers looked at shellfishing sectors around the world and came to the conclusion that Bridlington is “pretty damned good at what they do”.

“They were really maximising the type of income they could get from the effort they were putting in. It’s a success story,” said Dr Harness, who believes there could be scope for some limited local processing, turning lobsters rejected because they are missing a pincer or are discoloured, into food ingredients.

“Last summer, Pret A Manger ran a limited offer where they were selling lobster rolls and they sold them out.

“If you were given a choice of eating a shrimp sandwich or a lobster roll and they are £5 or £6 each which would you choose?

“Nobody is doing this. I think it’s the way forwards.”

The next 18 months should provide a “fantastic opportunity” for seaside businesses “because people won’t want to go overseas - the staycation will become the norm”.