Sonia Einersen from Cairns-based business Torres Straits Seafood in far north Queensland said live imports into China had been cut, so she had nowhere to sell her product.
“The coronavirus has really affected the whole fishing industry — we do lobster and live coral trout — it’s affected both of those as well as pretty much every other fishing industry in Australia,” she said.
“Boats are tied up, they can’t go out — most of our product goes into China or through Hong Kong as well into China.
“Hong Kong’s been affected as we all know for quite a long time now, with the riots and things have been going on there.
“All of the fishermen are not able to go to work and we’ve had staff we’ve had to put off. We have nothing that we can replace that with.”
Einersen said commercial fishers and seafood export businesses relied on the Chinese New Year period to bolster their income.
“All the restaurants have closed down, all of the New Year celebrations were cancelled, which is a huge thing in China and it should be our best time of the year,” she said.
“It’s where it gets a lot of the fishermen through some of the times when prices are a little bit leaner by making up for this time of year, but everything was cancelled, so it has been very drastic.
“They don’t know what they’re going to do, how they’re going to pay their mortgages, look after their families.”
She said the local market has also been affected.
Einersen said there was a domestic market for some of the product but it had been affected because most of the live seafood goes to Chinese consumers.
“So even our domestic market has been drastically affected by having no tourists coming in and then also the people that are here already are just not going out and celebrating,” she said.
More pain for bushfire-affected exporters
Dianne Tipping, from the Export Council of Australia, said China was the country’s largest export market and there are concerns over the reduction of flights.
“The lack of availability of freight space going forward is going to be quite serious,” Tipping said.
“It depends on how long this epidemic goes for and how long these restrictions and controls are in place.
“If it’s going to have to go in through such as Hong Kong … it’s going to add cost, it’s going to add time, and fresh food can’t afford that time — it’s very much on a shelf-life system.”
Ms Tipping said it was too early to know the full extent of the situation.
“It hasn’t affected the general exporter at this point — there are still ships coming and going, but we don’t know what the future holds, what even next week holds, with regard to other aircraft and vessels coming in,” Tipping said.
Call for government assistance
Commercial fisherman Chris “Harry” Harris said the industry needed financial help.
“We don’t get paid if we can’t send any product to China,” Mr Harris said.
“I can’t pay my crew, so we can’t go fishing, and I’ve got bills to pay and if I can’t go fishing what do I do?
“I can’t get any fish out so the buyers are hurting, people who sell us bait they’re hurting — whoever’s into the fishing industry be hurting.”