05/18/2012 07:26 EDT | Updated 07/18/2012 05:12 EDT

China gobbling up Atlantic lobster

Atlantic Canada is selling 30 times as much lobster to China as it was just two years ago, suddenly making it one of the region's most important lobster exports customers.

In 2010 the Chinese bought just $1 million worth of lobster but that increased to $30 million last year and it is expected to continue growing.

"I believe China will become our number two export customer this year," said Geoff Irvine, executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada.

Trade missions and industry food shows have been a factor in those sales, say exporters, as has good timing. A trade dispute led to a ban on Australian lobsters, forcing buyers to turn to other sources.

On P.E.I. sales have gone from just over $100,000 in 2010 to $2 million last year. By-the-Water Shellfish in Borden-Carleton is the beneficiary of most of that sales explosion. It ships live lobster from Atlantic Canada to China all year round.

[SIDEBAR] The Chinese like big lobsters, preferring those that are two pounds and up. [/SIDEBAR]

Head of sales Ryan Tremere gets a new call from China every few days.

"It provides a few extra challenges. It's a 2-day shipment time, but its role has become increasingly important for us, and it looks like it will continue," said Tremere.

"The growth in China will come because the economy is still growing. And seafood plays a larger role in their diet than it does in our diet."

Currently Belgium is the second largest buyer for Atlantic Lobster, acting as a gateway for Canadian lobster sales into Europe, with the United States being the top market.