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Selling the bounty of our seas to Asia

ONE could be forgiven for believing Gulf of Carpentaria prawns would be the easiest things in the world to sell.

But Julie and Bert Boschetti have their share of exporting horror stories – unfulfilled promises to take product; costly samples going “missing”; and the ubiquitous “problems with customs and quarantine”. The Boschettis have them all.

But with Austrade’s help, their family company, Latitude Fisheries of Geraldton, is winning valuable markets for its range of “wild caught” banana, endeavour, king and tiger prawns.

Started in 1981, Latitude Fisheries is a real family operation, consisting of Julie and Bert, their children Erica, Michael and Pia, a couple of office helpers, and three trawler crews of five to six each.

The company owns and operates the vessels. They trawl the Gulf of Carpentaria from early April through to October/November – apart from the mid-season closure when skippers and crews head south-east to trawl the balmy waters off Broome.

Most of the prized catch is shipped to markets in North Asia and Europe.

As a business venture it may sound idyllic. The reality is it can be anything but. Erica says the operation can, at times, be a logistical nightmare – organising boats and crews and shipping schedules while keeping one eye on the season and the other on markets.

But the returns can make it all worthwhile, especially with tiger prawns into Japan in a good year. The Japanese love the “wild caught” notion – the promise of a clean, green product without artificial additives – and they’re happy to pay.

To help break into the Japanese market, Latitude Fisheries took advantage of support from Austrade and, in particular, support from Austrade’s Export Market Development Grants Scheme (EMDGs).

“The EMDGs certainly helped us to get into Japan … to send samples and to visit buyers,” Erica says.

Having established markets in Japan, Latitude Fisheries has now trained its sights on Europe – thankful that Ron Edwards of the Australian Prawn Promotion Association (with support from the Federal Government) has successfully argued for a reduction on tariffs on Australian prawns into Europe.

The EU quota, which runs for five months from November 1 to March 31, now allows imports of up to 10,000 tonnes at a reduced rate of 3.6 per cent, well below the 12 per cent tariff normally applied to Australian prawn exports to the EU.

“It (tariff reduction) could make our king and banana prawns more competitive in Europe,” Erica says, adding that she sees very good potential with King prawns into countries such as Greece and Spain.

Latitude Fisheries also operates three rock lobster vessels in Geraldton – with the catch marketed through local lobster processor Batavia Coast Fisheries (in which Latitude is a shareholder). In the lobster “off season”, July to October, two of vessels go “longlining” for tuna and swordfish alongside the newest addition to the Latitude fleet, full-time tuna longliner, Discovery III.

This is a rapidly growing fishery and there are worldwide markets for the catch of tuna and swordfish.

Traditionally, much of the product has gone to markets in Japan, but other markets are now becoming more attractive, particularly the US and Europe.

Erica sees great potential for tuna and swordfish in the US and Europe. Latitude Fisheries has made a further EMDG claim (under new business) to help tackle these markets through visits and promotional material.

And Erica is grateful to Rachel Foy in Austrade’s London office, who she says has been very helpful with customs and shipping advice to get samples to potential customers in the EU.

Exports now account for 90 per cent of Latitude Fisheries’ business, says Erica, adding that the best way to win new orders is “to meet people face to face” at trade fairs.

For seafood sales this means the Boston Seafood Show and the Brussels Seafood Exposition – two of the biggest seafood shows in the world. EMDGs have helped Latitude Fisheries have a presence at both.

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