Lobster and abalone fishers in Tasmania are nervous that a new coronavirus outbreak in Beijing could crash their key market again.
- Lobster and abalone exports on hold as “precaution” while Beijing tests produce for coronavirus
- Seafood Trade Advisory Group “working closely” with exporters as situation develops
- One fisher is now driving around country towns selling lobster and chips from food van
The Seafood Trade Advisory Group, a coalition of fresh seafood exporters and researchers in Australia, confirmed the local government had closed wholesale markets, which process imported and local seafood, meats and horticultural products, and were frequented by thousands of people a day.
“Australian seafood exports are not being blocked by China [but] authorities there have advised that they may conduct COVID-19 testing on live, fresh, chilled and frozen imports of Australian seafood upon arrival into China,” said chairman Nathan Maxwell McGinn.
The Seafood Trade Advisory Group said it was working closely with exporters and relevant authorities to monitor the developing situation.
“We’re all taking a precautionary step and not sending anything at moment,” said Michael Blake, from the Australian Southern Rock Lobster Exporters Association.
“It’s put a 24-to-48-hour hold on products while waiting for test results, so for a live product like lobster it makes it very risky to send,” said Mr Blake.
He was unaware of any Australian shipments caught by the changes, but “80 per cent of Australia’s rock lobsters go through Beijing and Shanghai”.
The fresh seafood market in China had been opening again, but with passenger flights cancelled there had been fewer opportunities to get seafood out of Tasmania and the rest of Australia.
Government-organised freight flights from mainland cities had improved export opportunities, but this new outbreak had people worried things would slow again.
“The Chinese Government is just trying to stop any spread of any potential outbreak, we are hoping within a week we might have a better understanding,” he added.
Abalone exporters in Tasmania are also unsure about their supply chain.
While none would comment, the ABC believes they are not processing or exporting this week.
Tasmanian Atlantic salmon exports might also be affected.
It is believed China has been testing imports of Atlantic salmon from Europe for coronavirus.
Produce ‘relatively risk free’
Atlantic salmon producers Tassal and Huon Aquaculture would not comment.
Tasmania’s third Atlantic salmon producer, Petuna, does not export to China.
Australia exported $1.5 billion of seafood to 63 countries in 2019. China was the biggest buyer of fresh seafood.
“We are hoping we might be able to convince the Chinese Government that Australia is relatively risk free and it’s important for our products to go in,” said Michael Blake.
Australia’s Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham said “Although the World Health Organisation has said there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted by food, we respect all attempts to suppress its spread.”
He added that together with industry and other nations “We urge that any measures that are applied, are applied in ways that do not disrupt the effective flow of trade.”
Lobster boat to food van
Tasmanian lobster fisher Brendan “Squizzy” Taylor is one of many fishers hit hard by the closure of the Chinese markets due to coronavirus.
He bought a tonne of lobster quota at $53,000 two days before the Chinese market crashed and has now taken to driving around the state in a food van, selling lobster and chips in country towns.
“We thought, ‘What a great opportunity, we’ll take a gamble, and tour around southern Tasmania selling seafood’,” he said.
“We’ll try to get back into the export market as well but we’ll really try to get behind the Tasmanian public as well,” he said.