Australia To Operate Lobster Flights To Save $800M Of Seafood

The Australian government is working with the local fishing industry to operate ’emergency’ flights to transport seafood. Normally these products are shipped on passenger aircraft, but with flights grounded, the fishing industry has no other options. These seafood cargo flights could also return to Australia full of medical supplies.

Qantas might be chosen to transport the lobsters to China. Photo: Qantas

What are the details?

Whilst we have written plenty about rescue flights where nations hire aircraft to bring their citizens home, this is the first time on the site we have written about flights to rescue lobsters.

In normal times, the Australian lobster industry is worth around $500 million AUD ($306 million USD) per year, with the bulk of the product going to China. However, when trade shut down with China in January, the industry had to focus its efforts towards other Asian countries such as Japan and Korea.

But, in an ironic twist of fate, by now 80% of Chinese vendors have reopened and the demand has come back in full force… only for Australia to close its own borders. 

Without the regular passenger aircraft flying between Australia and China (Both Qantas and Virgin have effectively grounded their fleets), there is no way for the industry to deliver its product to the marketplace.

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Lobster has been associated with air travel for many years. Photo: Getty Images

What steps have they taken to solve this problem?

The main fishing companies in Australia have been negotiating with several different airlines to deliver these food products. Initially, the industry was considering flying the products from Australia to Japan, then onwards to China to avoid flight bans.

“We’ve been scrambling to try and find a solution to keep all of our people in a job and keep our boats on the water,” a representative of the fishing industry said to the ABC “Then we can keep all of the important export earnings coming into the country as well as maintaining supply to our customers.”

Then the Australian government has stepped in to examine the possibility of filling up these returning empty aircraft with medical supplies. They have made a plan to hire 40 aircraft over the next few months to deliver these seafood products at a cost of $110 million AUD ($67.4 million USD).

“We recognize the current COVID-19 crisis is placing immense pressure on Australian exporters, many of whom felt the earliest and deepest aspects of the economic downturn,” said Trade Minister Simon Birmingham in the Sydney Morning Herald. 

“Getting our export sector back on its feet is crucial to reduce job losses through the crisis and a critical part of the ultimate economic recovery.”

The plan will see planes from Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, and Brisbane loaded with $800 million AUD worth of lobsters and an additional $500 million AUD of other products. The flights will return with medical supplies from China.

“Necessary public health restrictions are already placing massive pressure on business viability and job security,” continued the trade minister. “We can’t afford for our farmers, fishers, and exporters to be under similar pressure just because they can’t get their goods onto a plane.”

Virgin Australia may be chosen to run some of these seafood flights. Photo: BriYYZ via Wikimedia Commons.

Which aircraft will be used?

Originally the fishing industries were discussing shipping its products with five different international airlines, but this investment from the Australian government likely comes with the caveat that they hire Australian airlines (Qantas or Virgin Australia). This is a smart move as some Australian airlines have asked for a bailout from the government and this new business could be just what they need to survive.

If you are in Australia, the next time you see a widebody Qantas or Virgin Australia aircraft taking off and flying overhead it might be up to something fishy.

What do you think of this news? Should the Australian government be involved? Let us know in the comments.