At this time of the year crayfish fishermen could normally expect to receive anywhere between $65 and $80 a kilogram for their cray, sometimes getting as high as $120 around Christmas time. Right now, you’d they’d be lucky to receive more than $30.
Last year was a rough one for the fishing industry, as can be said for most, but as the Australian economy begins to rebuild one key factor is severely slowing down the process: the Chinese trade war.
The trading relationship between Australia and China is extremely stretched, making it difficult for Tasmanian fishermen to export their catch, significantly affecting the price per kilogram of seafood, especially Tasmanian crayfish.
“The Chinese aren’t buying anything off us at the moment, there’s bad blood,” Stanley based crayfish boat Captain Grant Hursey said.
“We’re gonna have to start exploring other overseas markets.”
Grant catches five tonnes of red southern rock lobster each year. Between the cost of running his boat, the wages of his deckhands and the supplies used on the trip, the price needs to sit at higher than $45 a kilogram to break even. Currently, he is taking a loss.
But, as he has already paid for his quota for the year, he might as well catch them anyway, and hope the price rises in the mean time.
“We’re lucky we have the tanks at [Hursey Seafoods], we can hold them and hope the price goes up,” Grant said, of his parents’ business.
A commercial fishermen can either fish their quota themselves or lease it to another fisherman.
“At the moment you can get [a kilogram of] quota for $5 or $6 a kilo now,” he said.
“Even then, by the time you get them in you’d barely be turning a profit.”
There’s plenty of quota to go around, with very few fishermen interested in buying more due to the basement level prices.
“I know of a boat that [paid] $65 a kilo for his quota, but the crays are only worth $30 a kilo at the moment,” he said.
“A lot of people had quota last year where it wasn’t caught and they’ve lost a lot.”
The low prices can’t just be shaken off as a bad year. There are significant overheads involved in running a commercial cray boat, with many fisherman taking out sizeable loans to cover costs.
“A lot of fisherman have big bank loans to buy out their quota for the year, they may not be able to pay that back,” Grant said.
Seven commercial crayfish boats operate out of Stanley, ranging from two to 20 tonnes of crayfish annually. All of them are suffering through one of the lowest prices per kilogram in recent history.
“At the moment, breaking even is a good result,” Grant said.
“If it doesn’t improve I’ll probably knock off for a bit and cross the fingers and hope for the best.
“What else can you do?”