Seafood exporters eye Chinese appetite

Port Lincoln calls itself Australia's seafood capital and the town on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula is home to the nation's largest commercial fishing fleet.

It is a major exporter of both wild and aquaculture products, but facing pressures from imports.

For example, about half the barramundi consumed in Australia is now thought to come from Asia.

Barramundi is known by many around the world as Asian seabass, although its scientific common name is barramundi perch.

But despite the pressure from imports, one of Port Lincoln's pioneers of tuna fishing, Hagen Stehr, thinks there will be good times ahead for Australia, thanks to the Chinese.

"China will be the biggest seafood-consuming country in the world," he said.

"There is no ifs.

There is no buts.

It will actually happen." Boom looms His optimism is backed by a Rabobank report which found China had the potential for a $US20 billion annual import market within the decade.

"We are trying our damndest to open up the trade routes into China now with our seafood.

That will be on tuna also," Mr Stehr said.

"Once the Chinese are going to start eating tuna like the Japanese, it will be a completely new phase.

The best is yet to come." At another firm Western Abalone, freshly-shucked abalone are being taken from tanks ready for export to Asia and many will end up in some of the region's finest restaurants.

Abalone crews also are looking to China and have joined forces with lobster fishing crews to form what is known as the China Project, a lobbying effort for better market access.

Western Abalone managing director Jim George said illegal exports to China were a concern because the legal trade faced extra financial imposts.

"Thirteen per cent import duty and 12 per cent VAT, so in effect they're paying 25 per cent in total," he said.

"Compare that to smuggled-in product that goes through Hong Kong - or even nowadays some of it goes via Vietnam - then it makes the legitimate importers, very difficult for them to compete." While the Australian exports to China are seen as a potential goldmine for some, China also exports its produce to Australia.

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