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 where more than 90 per cent of the state’s catch is usually exported, one industry spokesman said planning was well underway to tackle softening appetite in the COVID-19 fall out.
“What we are finding now is China is becoming extremely volatile,” Kyri Toumazos, who is executive officer of South Australian Northern Zone Rock Lobster Fishermen’s Association, said.
“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 Toumazos 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.”
Towns in the heart of the southern zone fishery include Beachport, Robe, Kingston, Southend, Carpenter Rocks, Blackfellows Caves and Port MacDonnell.
Key spots in the northern zone range from Port Lincoln, Kangaroo Island and Pondalowie on Yorke Peninsula.
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 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 Toumazos said operators had taken at least 25 per cent less lobsters compared to the previous year, most halting catches as China 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.”
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 per cent is caught in South Australia.
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