The announcement at the beginning of the month by the Minister of Primary Industries, Nathan Guy, that his ministry has scheduled work on how to get a live trade with Australia functioning, and the development of Precision Seafood Harvesting, which brings fish on board alive, have given an impetus to the prospects of live seafood exports to Australia.
The Chair of Seafood New Zealand, Eric Barratt, says exclusive restaurants and retailers in Australia are likely to pay a premium for many seafood species if they are delivered alive rather than frozen.
He says there is much technical and negotiation work still ahead to have trade arrangements secured.
“Biosecurity is important for both countries, and Australian scientists and officials will want to assure themselves that there is minimal risk of a new species of fish, or any associated organisms, from New Zealand, establishing themselves in Australia as a result of exports,” Eric Barratt says.
New Zealand already exports live seafood to many parts of the world, with rock lobsters consignments to Hong Kong/China being the largest single earner. Other seafoods exported live from New Zealand include paua, mussels, clams, oysters and eels.
“For years we haven’t seriously worked on a trans-Tasman live trade,” Eric Barratt says. “We did have green mussels going there in the early days of mussel farming and even some oysters up to the 1990s. But Australia took a precautionary attitude and exports stopped. We feel that technically there are now the tools and trade regime to open up exports again.”
Eric Barratt says the most likely initial exports are bivalves, in particular surf clams. Total Allowable Commercial Catches for surf clams, such as tuatua, were substantially increased earlier this year.
“This sort of seafood can be packed in small consumer packs, which present less of a biosecurity risk, and they can be kept alive quite happily for a long time in those packs,” he says.
“The other prospect is with live fin fish which will be caught in our new Precision Seafood Harvesting system. The fish are landed on board our vessels live. That’s a very exciting prospect for an export industry.”
“There’s a lot of water to flow before we are underway. Apart from the trade protocols, we have a lot of technical work to do before we can transport any volumes of live fin fish, and then we need to market the exports as well. All of this takes time.”
The Chair of the Sydney Fish Market, Graham Turk, is likewise enthusiastic about the prospects of New Zealand live imports into Australia, once any biosecurity issues have been resolved.
“It’s an exciting opportunity. There’s a large and growing market for live seafood of all kinds here,” he says. “Live is the ultimate in freshness and we’d be happy to handle that product as we already do with present seafood exports to Australia from New Zealand.”
Graham Turk predicts a high demand for live seafood from Australia’s Asian communities. “There are also many Asian visitors to Australia, and I’d see restaurants catering to this market with your live seafood to select from.”
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