April 21, 2020

One of New Zealand’s first industries to be badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic is bouncing back and exporting to China.

The New Zealand lobster industry was among the first and hardest hit by COVID-19, with the export of live lobsters from New Zealand stopping in late January when China closed its restaurants and freight to the country was restricted.

However, Te Anau-based Fiordland Lobster Company, which exports about 40 percent of New Zealand lobster to China, has started up again this week and its product will begin arriving in Shanghai this weekend.

Lobster Exporters of New Zealand chairman Andrew Harvey confirmed lobster exports into China had resumed after “stopping dead” in late January.

Though a couple of North Island companies had exported small numbers of lobster to China in February and March, the industry was now getting started properly again – ahead of labour Day holiday celebrations in China when lobster was traditionally popular.

“So far it’s looking good, China is buying and prices are recovering,” Harvey said.

Restaurants in China had reopened, but with less seating, and planes were flying from Auckland to Shanghai.

The industry in New Zealand had been “hit about as hard as it could be” but he was optimistic it was coming back because China was looking like coming out the other side.

Lobster fishermen had done it tough while the industry was on hold but most would get thorough if the market held up, he said.

Fiordland Lobster Company chief executive Alan Buckner said it could have exported live lobster to China during New Zealand’s lockdown because it was classed as an essential service.

But the company didn’t because it wanted to support the lockdown and protect its staff, plus the demand for the product in China was low at that time and there was limited freight space.

It was good to be underway again, Buckner said.

“We have got boats landing [with lobster] every day now, we have made some sales into China for delivery this weekend and we are really encouraged at the level of customer interest.”

Due to restricted flights in New Zealand during lockdown the company was improvising by using Air Chathams planes to get its product from Manapouri Airport to Auckland where it was packed and flown to Shanghai.

Buckner was predicting a “stop start year” as the demand for live lobster settled in China and as flight connections improved.

Riverton Fishing Co-op marketing manager James Harvey said China wanted lobster at the moment but it was hard to predict how the rest of the year would go.

“It’s possible there could be an over supply of rock lobster into China.”

Southland Chamber of Commerce president Neil McAra said the resumption of live lobster exports gave hope to other industries that China was looking to import more product.

“Given China is our major exporter it’s a good sign.”