By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
THE government is awaiting a response from the People’s Republic of China on whether it will approve the large-scale import of live spiny lobster from the Bahamas for Chinese consumption, Agriculture and Marine Resources Minister Renward Wells said yesterday.
As live lobsters fetch a much higher price, Mr Wells said revenue generation for the Chinese market would be a lucrative addition to an already $100m seafood export industry where $80m is already accounted for by spiny lobster sales.
He said the discussion began last year and, so far, resulted in the Department of Marine Resources conducting a series of studies necessary for a country to be a contender for the Chinese market.
Asked whether there were any concerns the move could potentially deplete the local lobster supply, Mr Wells said there were none because this resource was currently sustainable due to the closure of the season which also prohibits the fishing of mature lobsters when they are spawning.
He said: “Obviously live lobsters fetch a much higher price, so for the fishermen we were trying to get the Chinese government’s permission. Obviously, they had their concerns about sanitary conditions and how they wanted the lobster handled.
“So, the Department of Marine Resources basically went through all of the studies that were necessary to be able to export to China and we were waiting on the approval from the Chinese government that the Bahamas’ method of processing lobster was going to be accepted as a means to be able to export into China live lobster.”
He added: “Lobster happens to be the largest earner of revenue in terms of marine export. We export about $100m a year of seafood products out of the Bahamas and into Europe and the US and into various countries across the globe.
“Of that $100m, $80m or 80 percent is simply lobster exports, the spiny lobster. The remaining 20 percent is conch, grouper, snappers, a small amount of sea cucumber, spider crabs and snow crabs. It’s a great opportunity for us to expand our marine sector into other areas, but at the end of the day a large number of what we export happens to be spiny lobster.”
He said this is something that should be welcomed by Bahamians because rather than sending only lobster tails out, the country will be sending out the whole lobster. In addition, he said as opposed to frozen lobster, exporters will be sending the product out live.
He also dismissed any fears that Chinese fishermen will be engaged in the exercise, saying the opportunity will be for locals to export a new item into the Asian market.
“This isn’t about China fishing our waters, this is about Bahamian fishermen capturing the lobster live, bringing it to our export facilities and us following certain procedures and exporting it for China. Fishing is still reserved for Bahamians,” Mr Wells said.
Earlier this year, then-Prime Minister Perry Christie announced at the launch of the Bahamas Trade Information Services Portal, that Tropic Seafood was engaged in “major research” on farming lobsters and exporting them via air to China.
Glen Pritchard, Tropic Seafood’s president, told Tribune Business previously the company has had an “excellent” success rate with flying live lobsters into Hong Kong.
“The Asian market is all about fresh seafood. We’re flying lobsters into Hong Kong right now. The success rate has been excellent. We have a better record than the Americans in terms of the numbers that survive,” Mr Pritchard said at the time.
Last year, then-Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries V Alfred Gray was caught in controversy over his contradictory remarks over a $2.1 billion agri-fisheries proposal that the Bahamas Embassy in China was given the go ahead to discuss with Chinese investors.
Mr Gray admitted he told at the time newly appointed Bahamas Ambassador to China Paul “Andy” Gomez he could have discussions on the controversial proposal, and has said such an initiative could be a good one for the county. However, he has also hit out at the newspaper that reported the story, and called the initial report “utterly false”.