Celebration for cray fishers

An adult red rock lobster. Photo by John McKoy Niwa.
An adult red rock lobster. Photo by John McKoy Niwa.
The Chinese New Year, on February 10, has lifted the crayfishing industry out of the doldrums.

In October, crayfishers were lamenting prices that were barely above the cost of leasing quota.

Several told the Otago Daily Times they were holding off catching their quota in the hope prices would improve.

A check yesterday revealed prices are now more in line with what crayfishers considered economic to go fishing for.

In October, crayfishers - paying about $50 a kg to lease quota - were being offered about $60 a kg for their catch.

This month, they have been receiving up to $78kg for the best quality fish and down to $58 for lower grades.

Alan Buckner, chief executive of the country's biggest live lobster exporter, the Fiordland Lobster Company, based in Te Anau, said yesterday the week-long Chinese New Year celebration was again boosting demand and prices.

''January's been a good month for the guys and they've achieved good pricing almost all the way through January.

''We think that sort of pricing level will be maintained into early February but then it is likely to drop off once the major Chinese New Year event has been completed.''

Mr Buckner said his company considered the Chinese economy was ''still strong'' and he could see a good long-term demand for New Zealand lobster [crayfish].

New Zealand lobster was regarded as a ''premium food'' in China and during celebrations ''a lot of our lobster is put on the banquet tables''.

Mr Buckner said the high level of the American dollar was affecting returns.

He considered the average price over the year, with peaks during various Chinese celebrations, made fishing economically viable.

South Westland crayfisher Barry Horne, who owns three tonnes of crayfish quota and leases three tonnes, said the improved prices were for mainly smaller fish, rather than the bigger fish typical of the Jackson Bay area where he fished.

He said the price being offered for some categories of crayfish was still below the lease price and he considered it was still ''pretty hard going'' for a lot of crayfishers because of ''high lease rates''.

The new quota year begins on April 1 and Mr Horne said it was around that time leases were negotiated.

He said it was too early to say what the new lease prices might be.

''There's the feeling out there that the lease price is not going to be any lower, because a lot of the fish is owned by investors and they reckon they are not going to take any less.

''But the thing is, the fish is no good to them if they can't get anyone to catch it.

''So if people refuse to catch it, they've got to play ball.''

mark.price@odt.co.nz