China’s May Day drives SA rock lobster prices through the roof, but WA fishermen yet to profit

Prices for Southern Rock Lobster have risen to more than $90 per kilogram, but a lack of air freight is restricting the amount or product that can be sent overseas.

South Australian exporter Andrew Lawrie said China’s May Day holiday had pushed beach prices for the luxury seafood to between $88 and $95 per kilogram.

It’s a welcomed increase as prices dropped to around $40 per kilogram earlier in the season, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Southern Rock Lobster Limited executive officer Tom Cosentino said local stock was low and reduced air freight had capped the supply reaching China.

“There’s not as much activity this time of the year, but coupled with less flights and the fishing quota rolled over to next season, it’s certainly putting the brakes on the supply chain,” he said.

Southern Rock Lobster caught in South Australia.(ABC Rural: Bridget Herrmann)

The Federal Government has allocated $110 million to its International Freight Assistance Mechanism [IFAM], aiming to help subsidise the cost of exporters getting product to overseas markets.

Mr Cosentino said the southern industry hadn’t used the scheme because the region aren’t fishing enough to fill the 30 tonnes weight requirement.

Western species take more flight

But it’s a different story in Western Australia.

The IFAM has subsidised 18 flights from WA to China within the past two months to freight 500 tonnes of Western Rock Lobster.

But prices have not reached to around those seen in South Australia.

Portrait shot of Justin Pirrottina wearing fluro yellow shirt in front of a boat at Geraldton Fishermen's Wharf.
Geraldton cray fisherman Justin Pirrottina said he had never been told to not bring crayfish in.(ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Laura Meachim)

Geraldton-based fisherman Justin Pirrottina received $33 per kilogram for his catch earlier this week.

He said it was a little disappointing, but there wasn’t a lot he could do about it.

“Or you sit and wait until up to June next year if you want to take a punt- it’s a gamble.”

Mr Pirrottina said the strong prices that South Australia’s southern lobster industry had experienced, had given him some hope that his catch price would increase.

“You’re talking about a completely different market, they’re a different cray,” he said.

Demand and price will rise

The Geraldton Fishermen’s Cooperative exports about 60 per cent of WA’s total lobster catch.

Picture of large western rock lobster
Western rock lobster is a popular dish at Chinese New Year, but coronavirus has prompted many celebrations to be cancelled.(ABC News: Chris Lewis)

Chief executive Matt Rutter said while WA hadn’t had the same experience as SA, demand overall was slowly increasing.

Mr Rutter said over about two weeks, 150 tonnes of lobster had been sent to China under the Federal Government’s freight assistance scheme.

He said this critical base load of capacity would be instrumental in rebuilding supply chains and retaining some jobs in the processing sector.

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