Australia’s cray fish industry has experienced a widespread cancellation of orders and drastic price drops as the coronavirus halts Lunar New Year celebrations in China.
With a large percentage of China currently in lockdown following the coronavirus outbreak in the region of Wuhan (a city of 11 million people in the Hubei province), the future of cray fish exporters across the country remain uncertain.
Fisheries across Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania have been hardest hit with mass cancelations of orders as parts of China go into lockdown with public transport shut down and people unable to travel in and out of cities.
According to South Australian Northern Zone Rock Lobster Fisherman’s Association, Chief Executive Kyri Toumazos, China accounts for more than 95 per cent of the South Australian lobster market.
Mr Toumazos said the demand for lobster had been ‘non-existent’ and that due to the heavy travel restrictions currently in place, no one was going out to celebrate and eat in restaurants.
“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,” Mr Toumazos said.
“There’s a crisis in our industry at the moment.”
Mr Toumazos warned that without the Chinese market consuming lobster, there would be a collapse in the Australian market.
“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.
Prices at large lobster fisheries in Tasmania, Western Australia and South Australia have been placed at zero dollars per kilogram as fishers are being urged to stop catching lobster in order to prevent oversupply.
With no exact timeline on the coronavirus outbreak, industries are looking at new markets for cray fish, both at a national and international level.
Tasmanian Rock Lobster Fisherman’s Association Chief Executive John Sansom said that local fishermen were having to get rid of fish locally and are calling on people to support their local fishers by buying rock lobsters.
“As far as I know no one is exporting. People will be trying to get rid of fish locally,” Mr Sansom said.
“We have fishermen selling fish on the wharf, we have other retail establishments helping out.
“This is a very important time of year for us around the Chinese New Year. We have a lot of people saving up their quota for this time.
“Our quota year finishes in about six weeks. If they don’t use up all their quota before that then they’ll be making a loss.”
It is still too early to tell what the full impacts of the coronavirus will be on Australian agricultural exports and will solely depend on how long the virus remains a world health concern.