Prepare to pay $100 for a plate of prawns

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
16 February 2007, at 12:00am

AUSTRALIA - It was a very disturbing conversation.

After hoeing into half-a-dozen big, freshly grilled prawns at my local Italian restaurant, at a very reasonable sub-$30 price, the night was spoilt somewhat when the chef sidled up and said: "Enjoy them while you can. In a few months time, the same dish could cost you $100, if I can get them at all."

For a crustacean-loving gastronaut, these words were chilling. For the economist in me, however, it was reminder of the iron laws of supply and demand. Oddly, perhaps, it also conjured up thoughts of bananas , but more of that later.

The reason for the dire prediction is the introduction next month of tougher import restrictions which are tipped to at least double - and, according to some, triple - the price of whole raw prawns. The new rules from Biosecurity Australia, the Federal Government's quarantine watchdog, will ban the importation of whole green prawns and subject raw prawn meat to strict new tests for diseases which could spread to local stocks.

Australia imports about $250 million of prawns each year, mainly from Thailand, Vietnam and China. Up to 70 per cent are raw.

While my Italian mate doesn't use this frozen stuff, or local farmed prawns, in his culinary masterpieces, preferring the superior flavour of the locally caught wild variety, the added supply provided by imports takes pressure off the prices of prawn dishes across the board.