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Western Rock Lobster Market Report | May 2020



Please read on for updated information regarding western rock lobster catches for the 2020/2021 season and lobster imports into China during 2020. This month’s market content also includes commentary on the composition and concentration of Australia’s merchandise exports to China. This may provide some useful contextual information in these times of heightened trade tensions.


Western rock lobster catch data for the 2020/2021 season to date

The ‘Catch Balance Graph By Zone (Warehouse)’ report is prepared twice-monthly by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD), most recently on 28 May. It provides information on entitlement landed within the West Coast Rock Lobster Managed Fishery (WCRLMF), aggregated on a monthly and zonal basis.

Please note that the data presented do not necessarily represent all fishing activity for the period, particularly with reference to delays in receiving and entering catch data from fishers and processors.  If you have any queries in relation to the report, please e-mail or contact the Rock Lobster Help Line 1300 574 071.

WCRLMF landed catch, monthly


WCRLMF landed catch, monthly, northern zones


WCRLMF landed catch, monthly, Zone C



Recently released data for China imports of lobster during April 2020

Data from the General Administration of Customs of the People’s Republic of China (GACC) provides an illustration of the effect that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has been having on the international trade in lobster.


China imports of non-frozen spiny lobster, monthly quantity by origin


China imports of lobster, monthly value by product type


More detail regarding the international trade in lobster, including China imports, will be presented in the forthcoming WRL publication, An overview of global lobster production and international trade: 2020 edition.


Composition and concentration of Australia’s merchandise exports to China

The considerable economic interdependence of Australia and China means that there is substantial and mutual benefit to be had in the ongoing cooperation between nations and in engagement with the global, rules-based system of international trade and investment:

  • China is easily Australia’s largest market for merchandise exports, with a particular emphasis on trade in resources and in food and fibre commodities. Australia is, reciprocally, a major source for China of many of these same products.
  • China is the major source of Australia’s merchandise imports, with particularly significant trade in a wide variety of manufactured goods.
  • Australia is an important provider of services to China, which is our largest source of international students and our most valuable tourism market.
  • Investment flows between Australia and China are substantial and growing. A similar value of investment flows in both directions, though mostly consisting of different types of investment.

The following chart presents merchandise exports from Australia to China, in 2019, for a selection of commodity categories (accounting for almost 90 percent of the value of Australia’s merchandise exports to China in 2019). The area of each bubble reflects the relative value of exports for each commodity/category, while the axes represent the reliance of Australian exports on China as a destination (vertical axis) and the reliance of China imports on Australia as a source (horizontal axis).

Merchandise exports from Australia to China, by commodity category, 2019


Sources: Australian Bureau of Statistics; General Administration of Customs of the People’s Republic of China; Government of Australia Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; WRL analysis


Taking the crustaceans & molluscs category as an example, Australian exports to China were worth $843 million in 2019, accounting for 80 percent of the value of Australian exports to all destinations, and 7 percent of the value of China imports from all sources. The majority of these exports were of rock lobster ($714 million), for which the respective trade concentration figures are 94 percent and 51 percent.

The reliance of the Australian rock lobster industry on China presents a significant risk (of which industry has long been aware). Notably, there is no alternative market that can take nearly as much product at a comparable price.

On the flip side, China relies on Australia for around half of its spiny lobster supply. This suggests a degree of mutual dependence and significant mutual benefit. Australia stands ready to provide a premium product, consistently and reliably, at a price that consumers in China are happy to pay.

Any distortion or disruption to the normal trading arrangements for rock lobsters would impose costs on consumers in China as well as on the industry in Australia.

If China were to encourage the replacement of Australian rock lobster with spiny lobster from other origins or with other premium seafood products, many consumers would be prevented from being able to fully satisfy their preferences (that being their want to consume Australian rock lobster in favour of the various alternatives, at their respective fair-market prices).

Note also that the demand for premium seafood products such as rock lobster tends to be connected with highly-discretionary consumer expenditure (e.g. restaurant dining). Distorting or disrupting the supply of such products within China would have the potential to hinder the desired recovery in such discretionary consumption.