Prawns prices at a stand still for fishers after import ban
PRAWN prices, "going through the roof" around Australia following a Federal Government decision to ban overseas imports for six months, have yet to benefit local fishers.
The ban came into force on January 6 in response to an outbreak of the deadly white spot disease in the Logan River, in Queensland.
The disease is not dangerous to humans and affects crustaceans, including prawns, crabs, lobsters and yabbies.
The Clarence River Fishermen's Cooperative fishing and marketing manager, Garry Anderson, said the local wild caught green (uncooked) prawn is selling at the premium end of the market, where its price is already well above the price of the imported product.
Mr Anderson said imported green prawns had been landing in Australia at about one third the price of for the local wild caught prawns.
"We're not seeing the prices going through the roof, like you're seeing in reports from Sydney," he said. "Our prawns are already selling near the top end of the market."
Mr Anderson said the reason for the outbreak of the disease in Australia is being investigated, but he believes the cheap price for imported green prawns could be an issue.
"In the early 2000s, the industry recommended against importing unprocessed prawns because of the threat of white spot," he said.
"The government allowed it as long as it was for food use only, but not for bait.
"Because the price of imported prawns is so cheap, people could have been using them as bait and that's how the disease got into the waterway."
Mr Anderson said the threat of white spot is a serious one, describing it as "a bit like the cane toad. Nothing can stop it".
Mr Anderson said while prawn prices are going to rise because because the supply is going to decrease significantly, there are going to be significant costs for producers.
"There's going to be a lot more testing, so there's going to be a lot more expense at the terminal," he said.
Mr Anderson said Australian aquaculture could be the first sector of the industry to benefit.
"Now about 99% of the demand for their product is for cooked prawns," he said.
"The consumers of green prawns will be looking for suppliers to fill that lower end of the market, but they will be forced to buy from these suppliers at higher prices."
Mr Anderson said the industry had to be careful it didn't drive consumers away with too higher prices.
"The risk is we drive people away from seafood to a different source of protein," he said.
While the local industry was not enjoying increased prices so far, Mr Anderson said he was looking at how the changes could play out.
"If aquaculture has a greater demand for uncooked prawns, prices could go up there," he said.
"At the moment, 95% of the local catch is cooked so there could be a greater demand for their product.
"The thing is not over supplying the market.
"It could be a double whammy for aquaculture and wild caught, with prices going up for cooked and raw product."