Rising import prices means Australia’s reliance on seafood imports will cost consumers, government report

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 27th January 2012

A government report published by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) on 18 January 2012, has revealed that, despite being surrounding by tropical and temperate seas, Australia imports 72 per cent of its seafood.

Australia produced a mere 241,000 tonnes of fish hauled over the 2009-10 year. This compares with Papua New Guinea producing a million tonnes of fish last year.

The report, commissioned by the Australian Government’s Fisheries Research & Development Corporation (FRDC), also states that sourcing sufficient seafood from overseas to meet Australian demand is becoming an increasingly difficult challenge.

Global population growth and the increasing affluence in the countries producing much of Australia’s imports, mean that higher priced imports are inevitable, according to the report.

Australian seafood processors have shut down during the past three decades leaving a lack of expertise in Australia. Leading Australian fish brands now source their fish product overseas.

Imports for the retail and food service sectors have meant that Australian manufacturing is not occurring or using Australian fish.

The FRDC report says that Australian seafood production volume is not growing strongly and prices are already too high for consumers.

“The overall quality, packing, size grading and branding of imported seafood is good, so much so that the prices of imports are increasingly as high as or surpassing those of the equivalent Australian product. Some Sydney seafood businesses readily pay more for imported Asian or New Zealand seafood than the Australian produce because of better seafood quality or size grading,” the report says.

The report also states that Australian fishers and fish farmers are focused on exporting their raw seafood to China, Thailand or elsewhere for processing and then re-importing the processed product for sale in Australia to take advantage of the processing expertise available in these countries.

“While the majority of Australians may prefer to buy Australian produce, the limited fisheries resources and the associated high prices of most Australian seafood keeps the local produce beyond the reach of many consumers,” the report says.

Australian Food News’ Comment:

The government report does not explicitly speak of future opportunities that exist to reinvent a new fish production industry in Australia. This is despite the developments taking place with new technologies in other food industries and the possibilities such as those illustrated with new technologies in the Australian tomato industry – see the Australian Food News Report on the new tomato industry in Australia.