‘Pretty experimental’: Exporter gambles on new market
A CAIRNS supplier of tropical lobsters is taking a risky gamble on a new market as trade tensions with China threaten to throw business in disarray.
Torres Straits Seafood has been in business supplying fresh caught fish from island fishers for 28 years.
Since 2000 their biggest market and source of revenue has been China, but the ban on Australian exports, which currently includes lobster has forced them to seek new options.
The company is gearing up for their first export job via Singapore Airlines to Bangkok in Thailand, shipping 400kg of tropical rock lobster on Friday.
Manager Suzannah Salam said the biggest risk was that the total freight time was more than double their previous option, which put their live lobsters at a higher risk of dying on the journey.
"It's going to be 28 hours because Singapore Airlines wants us to have them there six hours before the flight, and it also has to stay overnight in Singapore," she said.
"This is pretty experimental - we'll probably break even but we have to see how it will pan out.
"It's currently the only option we've got apart from maybe Hong Kong … but as the season starts and we start getting bigger volumes we won't be able to send them since those freights are often full."
Ms Salam said they needed the Singapore Airlines route to be a success, as the local market wouldn't be big enough to work.
"Our local market in Cairns is really only a couple of hundred kilos a month," she said.
"And who's going to buy them at the moment? There's no tourists."
If the route proves itself to be non-viable, the knock-on effect could be felt across the region. "If we don't make enough to break even, that'll mean we probably won't buy lobster from the Torres Strait and then they won't be able to keep fishing," she said.
"The Torres Strait exports probably 150 tonnes of live lobster a year … it's a $37m industry just in the Torres Strait."
Ms Salam said the biggest form of support they could hope to see from the government, apart from resolving the issue with China, was the continuation of the International Freight Assistance Mechanism routes.
Originally published as 'This is pretty experimental': Cairns exporter gambles on new market