16/04/2020 - 14:56

Lifeline for lobsters with federal freight deal

16/04/2020 - 14:56

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Western Australia’s rock lobster fishers have been given a temporary lifeline after the federal government brokered a deal to ship 500 tonnes of the local catch to China.

Lifeline for lobsters with federal freight deal
A local lobster fisher inspects his catch off the Abrolhos Islands, near Geraldton. Photo: Geraldton Fishermen's Co-operative

Western Australia’s rock lobster fishers have been given a temporary lifeline after the federal government brokered a deal to ship 500 tonnes of the local catch to China.

Federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said 18 planes filled with Western rock lobsters would be sent to China over the next two months, saying the deal would get the lobster industry back on track.

Geraldton Fishermen’s Co-operative chief executive Matt Rutter told Business News that lobster exports had been occuring only on an ad-hoc basis since around Chinese New Year in late January, when the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan effectively shut down the industry as Chinese buyers cancelled orders en masse.

The deal follows several weeks of negotiation between government and industry to establish a support framework for Australia’s biggest and most valuable fishery.

Under the framework, the federal government will underwrite the cost of freight for exporters of all premium agri-food products, such as rock lobster.

Mr Rutter said the agreement, which utilises the federal governments’ International Freight Assistance Mechanism, gave fishers certainty for at least the next two months and would be critical for Australia to maintain its reputation of providing a secure supply of premium food products.

“It gives us a good base load of freight which we just didn’t have before, so it’s fantastic,” Mr Rutter said.

“A lot of those opportunities that we have been selling into and using those logistics is very hand to mouth, and very unpredictable, which is difficult for us, because we need to plan week in and week out so that we can give guidance to fishers around how much they need to fish and when. 

“So what this does now is at least it gives us some sort of certainty around the costings for us to be able to go out and charter planes on behalf of industry and have confidence that we will know what the minimum is that we will be able to export.”

Mr Rutter said without the assistance, the industry would likely become quickly unviable.

“Certainly there would be mass stand-downs of staff and a number of fishers would have started to find it very very difficult if the situation had continued for much longer,” he said.

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