Australia's rock lobster industry is facing a crisis after the coronavirus outbreak in China wiped out 95 per cent of our export market practically overnight.
Australia's rock lobster industry is facing a crisis after the coronavirus outbreak in China wiped out 95 per cent of our export market practically overnight.

Lobster exports plummet – because of coronavirus

Australia's rock lobster fisheries are at crisis point, as fears around coronavirus have sparked the cancellation of orders from the country's biggest export market.

Kyri Toumazos, executive officer of South Australian Northern Zone Rock Lobster Fishermen's Association, said China accounted for more than 95 per cent of the lobster market but on Friday, that trading partner virtually disappeared.

Lunar New Year celebrations usually bring huge demand for southern rock lobster, targeted by about 145 SA-based licence holders.

But China has banned travel in cities close to the outbreak of coronavirus - a new respiratory virus which has killed at least 56 people - throwing new year celebrations into chaos.

"Even though the border is still open in some instances, it's difficult to get flights into those areas," Mr Toumazos said.

"But more importantly, there's no one out enjoying the restaurants, which means that the demand for lobster has basically gone to non-existent."

Mr Toumazos estimated up to 400 people were directly employed by the state's lobster fishing industry, and many more would be affected by the cancellation of Chinese orders.

"This time of the year is our highest demand for lobster so all the fisheries around Australia manage their operations so they can produce lobster at this point in time," he said.

"There's a crisis in our industry at the moment."

The state's largest rock lobster fishing communities are based in South-East towns such as Robe and Beachport, as well as Port Lincoln and Kangaroo Island.

The problem is being felt across the country, with other large lobster fisheries in Tasmania, WA, Victoria, NSW and Queensland.

SA lobster is normally an expensive but popular delicacy in China.
SA lobster is normally an expensive but popular delicacy in China.

"Without the Chinese market consuming lobster, there will be a collapse in the market here," Mr Toumazos said.

"If we're not able to export into China for the duration of this current season, it will mean that a lot of people working in our industry will need to look for other job prospects in the meantime."

Mr Toumazos said as a first step towards addressing the problems, fishers had stopped catching rock lobster to prevent oversupply.

Industry partners were looking at potential new markets for rock lobster, including other countries, as well as domestic buyers.

The lobster fishing season extends from November to May between the WA border and Murray Mouth, and October to April in the South-East.

It was hoped the State Government would bring in regulatory changes to allow fishing in the winter months, and for unused portions of this year's fishing quotas to be rolled over into the following season.

Mr Toumazos warned that once Chinese travel restrictions were lifted, it would take some time for Australian seafood markets to recover.

Primary Industries and Regional Development Minister Tim Whetstone has been contacted for comment.

michelle.etheridge@news.com.au



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