He has told the recent New Zealand Seafood Industry Conference in Wellington that he can not understand how live New Zealand seafood, in particular shellfish, can be bought in many countries round the world, but he can’t buy them to serve in his Melbourne restaurant.
New Zealand oysters and green-lipped mussels used to be exported to Australia, but the trade was stopped twenty years ago when Australian authorities became more focussed on their biosecurity concerns.
Luke Stepsys says he sampled New Zealand flat oysters in Auckland about three years ago and was immensely impressed.
“We don’t get that much of flat oysters in Australia and the New Zealand ones were so firm and sweet,” he recalls
“I wanted to put in an order for between 50 and 100 dozen a week. The I got the news, we aren’t allowed live seafood imports from New Zealand.
Seafood New Zealand chief executive Tim Pankhurst says the government had taken up the issue and it was discussed at a meeting between the Ministry for Primary Industries and its Australian counterparts earlier this month.
“We believe the way ahead is for a high level agreement for both countries to examine the appropriate biosecurity risk settings to allow two-way trade,” he says.
“The Tasman Sea is a shared body of water and a significant number of fish species are found on both sides of it, a number of which are shared stocks.
“There is also scientific literature that shows many aquatic animal health risks are shared.
“This is unfinished business under the Closer Economic Relationship agreement.
“Aussies love our seafood, in many cases they can’t get enough of it, and better still if it’s delivered live.
“There is no valid reason why it should not be.”
Luke Stepsys in Melbourne says he isn’t an authority on biosecurity.
“But you would think that in this day and age that capability could be sorted to get live imports from New Zealand going. You are only three hours away by air. You could harvest in the morning, and have your oysters here for serving in our restaurants by 6.30 that evening.
Luke Stepsys says New Zealand has a reputation in Australia as a pristine seafood producer.
“You see King Salmon from New Zealand in all the fine dining establishments here. Provenance is the key to the reputation. You’re known here for your lush, beautiful and unspoilt environment.”
He compares seafood imports into Australia in the same way New Zealand sports teams have been integrated into Australian competitions, such as the Warriors in 1995 and the Breakers basketball team in 2003.
“We share so much, going back through the ANZAC tradition. Australia already imports 75 per cent of its seafood consumption. Why not share what you have with us?” he 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.
The New Zealand seafood industry estimates a live trade with Australia could be worth $100m a year.