Up to 180 tonnes of live rock lobster is currently being held in tanks after Chinese exports were cancelled © Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images
Up to 180 tonnes of live rock lobster is currently being held in tanks after Chinese exports were cancelled © Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images

NZ to release rock lobsters as coronavirus impacts demand

17 February 2020

Tonnes of rock lobsters are set to be released in New Zealand as Chinese demand is impacted by the outbreak of coronavirus. 

Sudden falls in demand for the delicacy - also called crayfish - from mainland China, means live lobsters awaiting export will go to waste unless they are returned to the sea. To prevent this, New Zealand’s government is preparing to give the go-ahead to allow just this.

The stay of execution will reduce stockpiles of between 150-180 tonnes of live rock lobster currently held in New Zealand in pots and tanks after export orders were cancelled by Chinese distributors. 

New Zealand’s government said it is preparing to authorise the release of a number of live lobsters so they could be fished again at a future.

“I have agreed that fisheries officials can allow a limited release of rock lobster back into the wild,” fisheries minister, Stuart Nash confirmed.

“The decision will affect the live crayfish in holding pots at sea, and some held in tanks on land. It means they can be harvested again when the trade disruptions are resolved.”

Normally New Zealand and Australian shellfish exporters sell large amounts of lobster to China for the Chinese New Year celebrations between 25 January and 8 February. But because of the outbreak of coronavirus, most orders were cancelled.

Although waste will now be minimised, Nash also revealed not all rock lobsters held in processing facilities will be able to be returned to the sea. This is because strict rules govern the return of rock lobsters, to ensure they are likely to survive, and to ensure lobsters are not put back into areas where they were not actually caught.

Where lobsters have been brought together from various sources Nash said officials will consider their release “on a case by case basis”.  He added: “The industry will be required to find new markets for rock lobster which are not able to be returned to sea.”

Nash said anyone wishing to return lobsters and sea would need to provide information to Fisheries New Zealand. He also revealed he was considering making technical changes to catch entitlements next year, to help support struggling fisheries.

In Australia, lobsters are already reportedly selling for two thirds their normal price, as shellfish producers try to offload excess stock because of falling demand in China.

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