SAN Remo’s cray fishermen are bracing themselves for a terrible start to the Southern Rock Lobster season, which is supposed to get underway on November 16, with reports today that the shellfish will be added to China’s latest export bans.
The news comes after Chinese customs officers started delaying imports of some premium shellfish products at airports, in a sign Australia’s rock lobster industry might be the latest casualty of growing tensions between Canberra and Beijing.
Now, it seems to have been confirmed that Australian lobster will be off the Chinese menu for the foreseeable future.
Paul Mannix General Manager of the San Remo Fishermen’s Co-op said on ABC radio on Wednesday, November 4 that the news was a real concern to local operators already gearing up for the start of the season locally.
He said that while some of the crayfish caught locally were sold on the domestic market, the vast majority went to established markets in China.
“The Southern Rock Lobster we catch here is acknowledged as the very best in the world and it’s only that premium end of the market that we are looking to supply,” Mr Mannix said.
He acknowledged that at the high point in the market, Southern Rock Lobster could sell for $140 a kg but due to disruption to supply lines caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, prices had been well below that already this year.
He said it wasn’t easy to adapt to a lower price if China ruled itself out of accepting Australian exports with local operators paying the owners of the licences set fees and they were also up for the cost of fuel, wages to deckhands and other fixed costs.
But he said that claims of problems with the quality of the lobster from this area did not wash.
“It’s a bit cheeky for them to say there’s some problem with quality. Southern Rock Lobster from this area is the best of the best, caught in the pristine waters of Bass Strait.”
He said that while some of the catch was available locally, much of it was sold to brokers in Melbourne who had long-standing orders in China.
Asked if it might mean a lot of cheap crayfish on the local market for Christmas, Mr Mannix said that might be so but noted exporters would continue to look for more lucrative markets overseas.
Some Australian lobster shipments have already experienced customs clearance delays in the past few days due to increased import inspections in China, the Seafood Trade Advisory Group said this week. Most exporters have decided to halt shipments to China “until more is known about the new process”.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham called for all importers to be treated equally.
“Chinese authorities should rule out the use of any such discriminatory actions,” he said in a statement this week.
But the dispute escalated later in the following few days with Australian wine, copper and coal, along with lobster, added to the list of Australian products facing an effective, if not official, ban.