Rock lobsters the catch of the day


Founded in the 1950s by a small group of lobster fishermen, the Geraldton Fishermen’s Co-operative in Western Australia is now the largest rock lobster exporter in the world with a membership of 200 fishermen. Although it has increased in scale, with 350 employees and sales worth $450 million each year, its motto has stayed the same: “Built by the fishermen for the fishermen”.

“The Chinese revere rock lobster, or long-xia as it’s called in China, which means Dragon Shrimp,” said Wayne Hosking, CEO, Geraldton Fishermen’s Co-operative.

“Our lobster is considered the premium rock lobster in the world for its form, colour, flavour and provenance.”

The advantage of the Chinese rock lobster market is that it’s ready-made, said Mr Hosking. “There’s a very high awareness and desire for the product – we don’t have to go out and create it. There are the advantages of being geographically close and in the same time zone. Then China’s ability to pay exceeds anybody else in the world for this product.”

There are added cultural implications in China around the desire for rock lobster. Hosking explained that lobster is not just viewed as food but as a sign of wealth and status.

“The Chinese believe rock lobster generates good health and of course coming from Australia, it’s seen as clean, healthy and safe. But the main attraction is that it’s a way to demonstrate success,” Mr Hosking said.

Since the introduction of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) in December 2015, the tariff for rock lobster has been cut twice, to 4 per cent, "The FTA is creating lots of business opportunity,” Mr Hosking said. “As soon as it was ratified, we could see changes in the market. It opened the doors almost overnight.”

First and foremost, Mr Hosking said ChAFTA will reduce the cost of exporting to China. “Another substantial benefit is that ChAFTA will allow us to export directly into any of the ports in China, which was not previously possible due to the high tariffs. So it frees up the trade routes.”

As a result, the co-op has seen an immediate increase in the amount of potential customers getting in touch. “It has really kick-started things. We have seen more open dialogue in terms of people wanting to do business with us,” he said.

Mr Hosking says the co-op is preparing for the next couple of years when the FTA will start to change the way it trades with China.

“We’ve taken a lot of steps in anticipation,” he said. A new live lobster facility has been built on the grounds of Guangzhou airport, which will be paired with another facility being built alongside the Perth airport which will be the world’s largest live rock lobster facility.

“Once that’s completed we’ll have the shortest tank-to-tank flight time of any company – about 14 hours,” Mr Hosking said. “We are looking to partner with Chinese internet sales platforms and logistics companies to develop more direct trade routes in terms of wholesale, food service and direct-to-consumer markets.”

Mr Hosking said: “With the help of ChAFTA, we will generate considerably more value for our members. Unlike a lot of companies, our members own the resource from the fishing licence up, so you’ve got this unique opportunity to go end-to-end and own the whole value chain through to the consumer. This will directly benefit the fishermen, their families and the communities in small towns along the south-western coast of Australia.” 

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