South Australia’s seafood industry looks for new markets after Covid-19
Ferguson Australia is a major processor and exporter of Southern Rock Lobster. Image: Robert Lang

South Australia’s seafood industry looks for new markets after Covid-19

Rock lobster fishers are rapidly searching for new markets and ways to lower costs before the South Australian season starts in earnest later this year. As the industry reels from a diminished Chinese market than usually takes 90% of the state’s catch, one industry spokesman said planning was well underway to tackle softening appetite in the COVID-19 fallout.

‘What we are finding now is China is becoming extremely volatile,’ said Kyri Toumazos, executive officer of South Australian Northern Zone Rock Lobster Fishermen’s Association.

‘I think in times of turmoil there’s always times for opportunity. I’m urging my industry to always look for opportunities that may arise from this, we are slowly identifying a lot of efficiency gains we could have, and a flexibility we need to build into the industry.’

While he predicted more freight shortages and lower prices for the state’s premium southern rock lobster in the upcoming season, he said it was vital for the industry to pull together to support its 245 licence holders in the state.

‘We’re going back to the planning board, that’s the reality,’ he said.

‘We’re one of the biggest seafood sectors in South Australia and we support coastal communities from the Victorian border to the West Australian border.’

Kyri Toumazos, whose own association represents 61 of those rock lobster catch licence holders in the state’s northern fishing zone, is keen to create a fresh five-year plan to support the industry through a tough few years.

He believed the challenges it faced now could lead to a better managed, more diversified and resilient industry looking to new markets in the United States and Europe.

Operators are already working with government to ensure there is flexibility in the upcoming season that usually runs through from October to May with more than 1200 tonnes of produce is caught.

The State Government announced earlier this year that uncaught quota limits for rock lobsters can be carried across the next season for the Southern Zone fishers and the next two fishing seasons for the Northern Zone fishers.

An annual winter closure of the fishery is also lifted for the Northern Zone Inner Region for this year.

But Kyri Toumazos said operators had taken at least 25% less lobster compared to the previous year, most halting catches as the Chinese market was shut down by Covid-19.

He said the issue now was the Chinese market that paid premium prices was still soft and consumers were spending less on high-end seafood.

‘This is a multi-year issue, I don’t think we will be recovered in the next 12 months, my personal opinion is that it is a five year plan,’ he said.

The Southern Rock Lobster is among the most sought after in the world and is only found in the waters of southern Australia and New Zealand, of the 3000 metric tonnes Australia processes each year about 53% is caught in South Australia.


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