The Southern Zone Rock Lobster season opens tomorrow, with a strong domestic sales focus expected.
Dozens of professional lobster licence holders spent the weekend getting ready for the 2021/22 Southern Zone season which will kick off at 6am.
The earlier than usual opening is one of the State Government’s responses to the loss of the Chinese export market last November.
In another change, fishing was also permitted for much of the winter months until July 31 but few licence holders availed themselves of this opportunity.
Fisheries Minister David Basham also allowed uncaught 2020/21 quota to be rolled over into the upcoming season.
Almost 12,000 pots are licensed to the professional lobster sector and a significant portion of these will be placed, weather depending, in the coming days on rocky ledges and the Southern Ocean floor off the SE coast.
South Eastern Professional Fishermen’s Association executive officer Nathan Kimber said there were positive signs for the local fishery.
“The feel about the fishery in terms of the stock and where that’s at is really quite positive, the fishery is probably in as good as shape from a biological stock perspective that it’s been in for the best part of 15 years,” he said.
“The primary indicators used to assess the catch rate of legal size and catch rate of undersize are as positive as they have been since the mid-2000s,” South Eastern Professional Fishermen’s Association executive officer Nathan Kimber said.
“This is really good, having a really well performing stock has certainly helped over the last 18 months as we have dealt with market and trade disruptions.”
Mr Kimber said there would be another strong focus on the domestic market this season, especially during key times such as Christmas and in the lead up to Easter.
“We had great support from the Australian public last year and we would expect to see a lot of product purchased domestically again,” he said.
“This is because of several issues such as air freight availability, the COVID situation in various export markets, so there would obviously be a relatively strong focus again on South East Asia in markets like Hong Kong, Taiwan and Vietnam.
“Essentially we have not exported to China since October 28 last year, at this point in time nothing has changed on that front.
“Quite clearly it is a problem as the Chinese market has historically taken 90-95% of our product, we had to think pretty quickly on our feet last year and try other markets that were prepared to take our fish and probably we are going to have do the same this year.”
Local fishers are optimistic about the coming season, however they are not expecting the highs of last year’s opening which saw beach prices well above $100kg while the Chinese export market was fully operational.
Port MacDonnell fisherman Adam Lewis, who has been fishing for more than 20 years, is expecting a “stop start year” when it comes to fishing.
“It would be better if we could get China back on board, but it will be a matter of whether the SA factories can hold the crays,” he said.
“The COVID situation in Sydney in Melbourne is making things difficult as people are not able to go out and buy crays which makes life tough.
“The last few years the catch has been phenomenal and pretty well most of our catch went to China, but now we have had to rely on local buyers and the price has dropped.”