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Live Lobsters Fly to Export Success

Live Lobsters Fly to Export Success

An increasing volume of valuable export earnings are being generated by the Fiordland Lobster Company (FLC), following its successful pioneering of the live lobster export industry over the past 25 years.

Now exporting about over 800 tonnes of the Kiwi Lobster-branded product (officially known as Jasus edwardsii lobster) each year, the firm’s achievements have been founded on efficient air freight and a well-oiled logistics operation, says FLC group general manager sales and marketing David Prendergast.

“This lobster is considered the sweetest tasting and most succulent variety available and is highly sought after in Asia, where it is the lobster of choice,” he says.

“This is particularly so at the Chinese dinner table, where our air freight connections and logistics processes are ensuring a premium product is being delivered within only four to five days of being fished from local waters.

“Christchurch and Auckland international airports obviously do tremendous work to make sure everything goes like clockwork with the airlines. They are unsung heroes to our industry.

“Those two airports are our main hubs for exports but we do ship large quantities of cargo via Dunedin, Christchurch and Wellington airports to Auckland for international connections.

“We don’t have too many hiccups in logistics, where Mainfreight International’s perishables division has been our partner for 25 years. They are our go-to guys for organising all domestic and international freight.”

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New Zealand Airports Association chief executive Kevin Ward notes that air freight is the only transport option from this country for perishable, high-value exports such as lobsters.

“Some 20% by value of New Zealand exports go by air, even though they comprise only 1% of the total weight,” he says.

“Most air freight travels in the hold of wide-bodied passenger jets, so the growth of air connections and tourism to Asia and other growing economies is also a great opportunity for New Zealand exporters..”

Established by a small group of fishermen in Fiordland in 1989, FLC firm has now developed into a significant nationwide operation, employing about 40 staff and 20 full-time-equivalents.

“We operate export facilities in Te Anau, Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington and Mt Maunganui and depots for landing lobster from fishermen dotted around the North and South Island.

“Fishermen fish for Fiordland rock lobster in traditionally plentiful areas such as Milford Sound, Jacksons Bay and Riverton as well as the Otago and Wairarapa coastal areas and in the waters around the Mahia Peninsula -- we have a 70/30 catch split in favour of the South Island.

“Depots are located strategically throughout FLC’s operation area for fishing boats to land their catch. Here the fish are placed in tanks awaiting pick-up for transfer to the company’s factories in Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington and Mt Maunganui.

“Helicopters are used in the Fiordland area to fly live lobster from the depots to Te Anau but elsewhere the catch is transported by insulated truck to one of five export packing factories in New Zealand. Here fish are weighed and graded then swum in tanks to rejuvenate them for 24-48 hours before being packed for export from the Christchurch and Auckland international airports.”

Nonetheless, Mr Prendergast laments the industry has not yet been able to establish a Certificate of Non Manipulation (CNM) out of Australia for transhipment through to China.

“Under the New Zealand free trade agreement with China we have to produce a CNM for anything hubbed over a third country port. If we could achieve this document over Sydney to Shanghai, 80% of our South Island business would be exported from Christchurch. This would take a lot of pressure out of the logistics chain and assist the industry greatly.”

Looking for further growth opportunities, the company entered the Australian market in 2011 as a processor and exporter of the South Australian lobster.

“In 2013 we managed 500 tonnes of South Australian lobster, primarily to China, thereby making FLC the world’s largest shipper of the Jasus edwardsii lobster.”

As well as being an important contributor to the regional and national economy, FLC is also very proud of its environmental credentials, adds Mr Prendergast.

“FLC works closely with the Department of Conservation to help nurture and initiate new conservation projects under their partnerships programme. The fisheries we operate in are sustainably managed under the fisheries quota system.”

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