The WA lobster industry — the forgotten live export trade — wants to double in size to harvest a billion dollars worth of product in 10 years time through technology, marketing and production control to support high prices that would make OPEC envious.
Western Rock Lobster Council chief executive Matt Taylor heads the industry body for fishers who hold licences for the annual production quota of 6300 tonnes, or about 12.6 million lobsters.
Speaking at an Agribusiness Australia breakfast this week Mr Taylor said the industry aimed to maximise value rather than just boost production.
Since 2009 the industry had operated under a quota called the total allowable commercial catch that was set to ensure the environmental sustainability of the fishery.
Plans are afoot to further restrict the quota with a criteria to maximise economic yield. Put simply, even if the fishery can support an increased catch more lobsters would not be harvested if it would push the price down.
West Australians used to refer to “crayfish”, with the term “lobster” regarded as an unwanted Americanism used to appease the main market. Sales later moved to Japan and now China takes 98 per cent of the State’s catch.
The industry’s own analysis identified the reliance on one market as its biggest risk.
The Geraldton Fishermen’s Co-operative is the biggest industry player, with its members holding a 63 per cent share of the quota.
Chief executive Matt Rutter said China absorbed almost all the catch as it provided the premium price, in part because of the cultural significance of lobster in China. Red was regarded as an auspicious colour, lobsters looked like dragons and their Chinese name of “longxia” translated to dragon shrimp.
In a marketer’s dream, many buyers considered the high price a positive, as using lobsters signified prosperity. He said they often featured in significant celebrations such as weddings.
West Australians have now lost control of the name and almost all the production of a treasured festive season delicacy.
To lower the risk of losing community support, a local lobster program has run for the last two summers to put more lobsters on to Christmas plates. It allowed fishers to increase their catch with 12,500 local-use only tags.