EXCLUSIVE: Deadly virus outbreak triggers Chinese lobster lockout

THE deadly coronavirus has brought the southern rock lobster industry to a virtual standstill as China tightens its borders in the wake of the outbreak.

Sky Seafoods’ Andrew Lawrie today confirmed several Chinese cities were no longer buying lobster in a blow to the Limestone Coast sector on the eve of Chinese New Year celebrations.

“Most people have had their exports cancelled,” Mr Lawrie revealed.

“No one can set a beach price, some buyers have stopped buying completely, others are taking crays but only on consignment.

“This means fishermen don’t get paid unless the lobster sells and they have to wear any mortalities in the tank.

“We all have stock just sitting in the tank with nowhere to go.

“Fishermen are not even bothering to leave the dock – there’s really no point.”

This comes as the Chinese Government has locked down a total of six cities across the country in a bid to stop the virus’ spread.

Mr Lawrie said Chinese New Year celebrations should be one of the busiest times of the year for the Limestone Coast industry but stakeholders had been left in the dark.

“It’s going to take at least a week to know the full extent of what is going on,” he said.

“Then it’s still more time before it’s rectified – we are all in the dark at the moment.

“It’s a very stressful and confusing time for everyone in the industry.

“It’s just another nail in the coffin of a very average season.”

Although the broader impact of the virus outbreak on the 2019/20 season is still unclear, Mr Lawrie said there was plenty of time to rectify it.

“The season doesn’t end until May,” he said.

“So we have time to get back on track.”

More than 800 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in China, with 25 reported deaths.

Symptoms of the virus include runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat, fever and a general feeling of being unwell.

No confirmed cases have been reported in Australia.

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