Seafood industry plans pandemic rebound

·3-min read

The Australian seafood industry wants to hook new international customers with an industry-first plan that aims to grow the export market to $2 billion by 2030.

The seafood industry was badly hurt by COVID-19 with exports dropping by 14 per cent during the pandemic.

The Geraldton Fishermen's Co-operative, which represents mostly lobster fishers in Western Australia, has suffered a 50 per cent drop in revenue in recent years.

CEO Mark Rutter said a strong national approach to exports is badly needed.

"We have a huge opportunity, and we haven't necessarily up until now capitalised on that," Mr Rutter told AAP.

The plan targets a number of seafood sectors including the industry leader, lobster, which pre-COVID was worth up to $900 million and has suffered from China's ban on live lobsters in 2020.

"China for us is still a really important strategic market, we would love to see it open again," Mr Rutter said.

Seafood Industry Australia chief executive Veronica Papacosta said the need for the plan was identified out of COVID-19, with the pandemic seeing exports drop to $1.2 billion in recent years.

"Given that a lot of our product is traded live ... our export markets were shut down," she told AAP on Monday.

Ms Papacosta said COVID-19 helped producers realise they weren't prepared for a crisis.

The export plan focuses on collaboration among producers and the creation of a great Australian seafood brand for the export market.

"From an Australian brand perspective, it's not just the pristine waters, it's also the fact that we invest quite heavily in traceability and certification, that buying Australian seafood is sustainable," Ms Papacosta said.

"The relationship with the importers that we had previously are still quite strong, but the order volumes are not back," she said.

"We need to get the lobster sector back to where it was ... so the fastest way to do that is to deepen relationships they have in existing markets that they know."

Ms Papacosta said the export plan also looks to develop relationships with countries including Singapore and Korea and across multiple seafood markets.

"The export strategy is designed to ... move away from what would essentially have been a single market focus ... China."

She said part of the project involves further research into developing markets, and identified salmon as a strong emerging market.

"Understanding what salmon can do in terms of volume and price in the international market is one to watch."

The plan found that by 2030 world seafood production and consumption are expected to increase by 20 per cent.

It said Asia will continue to dominate, importing 37 per cent of seafood for human consumption, with China driving much of the demand.

The plan was launched on Tuesday to coincide with the seafood industry's biennial conference, with 500 delegates from industry, government and academia meeting in Brisbane.

The conference will also examine how the seafood industry can build resilience as the climate changes and will also address the seafood industry's plastic packaging problem.

The conference runs till Thursday.