March 13, 2020


COVID-19 seen to wipe US$247 million off Australian seafood sector


The seafood prices in Australia are falling and fishers are pleading for help as major international markets shut down due to the spread of coronavirus.


Prices paid to fishermen for prawns, scallops and lobsters have dropped by a third and could slide further as Asian markets continue to hold off buying seafood.


That could mean cheaper prices for domestic shoppers, but agricultural forecaster ABARES has predicted a AUD389-million (US$247.41 million) fall in the value of the fisheries and aquaculture industries to AUD2.81 billion (US$1.79 billion).


Peter McGowan, of major West Australian scallop operation, McBoats, is among those feeling the pinch.


"Currently with the virus and a few other problems in the fishery, we are going to be struggling to know where to sell all of its product and get it out into the market place," McGowan said.


"Seventy percent of our scallops go to Hong Kong—the Hong Kong market is shut down, so we've got some severe problems."


Recently McBoats unloaded 26 tonnes of scallops from the Shark Bay region—a catch that would previously been worth more than AUD1 million (US$636,020).


The catch has now lost a third of its value, and the business is struggling to sell it at a price that will cover the overheads.


McGowan said the business would try to grow its local sales to offset some losses, and was trying to determine how they could continue fishing.
"We've got some huge access fees to get to the Abrolhos and fish it," he said. "We need to work with government to overcome these. We need assistance from our banks, and we need the locals to buy our product so we can actually have somewhere to go with it."
"Scallops have never been at this sort of price, it's a world-class product we produce and so its a great time for people to try it. They're coming down, but has to have a certain price because of the work that is involved in producing them."
WA-based seafood wholesaler Phil Clark from Fins has launched a social media campaign in a bid to increase domestic seafood consumption.

"Prawn [prices] will be down this year, I'd expect, so there'd be opportunities for great buys locally on prawns. [The market price for] scallops…has definitely come back."


"With China being the largest market for that product, we've got to look for new markets to get this product sold, and one of them is going to be the local market. It's time to think about local communities and how we can support them. I'd expect certain prices to drop by a third on a retail level—that's quite a significant saving."


Clark said the news the March Boston Seafood Expo was to be delayed was another "kick in the guts" for the seafood industry.


"We were planning on using that to launch some sales of scallops and prawns, etc, to ease our local market," he said. "But without having that show we're not going to meet some of those potential customers. It's stressful, but we'll get through it—we'll make something happen."


Ben Pethick shifted his business from lobster fishing to wet lining after fishers were told to stop operating in January.


"Because we've been in the wet lining industry for about 10 years, [at the] first opportunity we went straight into the wet line fishing to turn over some money and support the family and keep things ticking over," he said.


"There's a lot of competition at the moment because everyone is in the same boat. We diversified about 10 years ago into the wet lining industry. Sometimes I doubted myself, if I was doing this right thing, but this year its definitely paid off," he added.


Pethick said he was waiting on the government to respond to a request to extend the lobster quota period before making a decision on whether or not to return to pulling pots.

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