Japanese lobster market in focus

THE Western Rock Lobster Development Group is planning a major study of the dynamics of the Japanese market, following dramatic changes to the way the business operates there.

Speaking as the WA lobster season wound up on June 30, WRLDG chairman Tony Gibson said the industry group hoped to sign a deal with Austrade to compile a report about the way lobsters were imported into Japan.

“As an industry we are trying to find out how our product sits in the over all scheme of things and how we can penetrate further down the food chain, rather than just relying on the big trading houses,” Mr Gibson said.

He said consolidation among Japanese importers has had a significant effect on the market.

“There used to be about 15 big trading houses, now there are about five. That is of concern,” Mr Gibson said.

“We need to know what we have to do to put a marketing plan in place for our industry.”

The move comes after a tough season, buoyed by the Australian dollar, which provided moderate prices for all involved.

This season’s lobster catch is likely to be around 11.4 million kilograms.

Last year’s record 14 million kilogram season

has made it hard for sellers to keep prices up.

The beach price started the season at $30kg, dropped to as low as $23kg, and finally settled at $25-$27kg.

“It has been an extremely difficult season. Last year was a record year and we started off this year with a very high inventory,” Mr Gibson said.

The next 14 million kilogram season could come as soon as 2003-04.

The Australian dollar has been helpful but concern about Japanese economic conditions has left the industry wondering about next season.

“It is unknown what those inventory levels are at the moment in Japan,” Mr Gibson said.

While the season has been tough, a decision by Qantas to temporarily suspend direct flights from Perth to Tokyo may work in the industry’s favour.

From October 28 until June, Qantas will be flying from Perth to Tokyo via Sydney, allowing it to use larger 747 aircraft than the 767s plying the direct route. The extra flight time through Sydney will make little difference to live lobster shipments and will arrive in Tokyo earlier than the direct flight, which is better for shippers.

Shippers also will avoid the weight restrictions that sometimes arose with shipments on the 767s.

However, once a second runway is completed at Tokyo’s Narita airport, the direct Perth to Tokyo flights will resume.

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