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Live fish trade plummets as coronavirus blamed for scaring customers away from Chinese restaurants

ABC NEWS logo ABC NEWS 10/03/2020

The live fish trade out of Tasmania is the latest casualty for the seafood industry, as coronavirus scares customers away from Chinese restaurants.

Rock lobster and abalone exports from the island state were already under pressure from the global spread of COVID-19.

Buyers inspecting the fish at the Melbourne Fish Markets. (Supplied: Melbourne Seafood Centre) © Provided by ABC NEWS Buyers inspecting the fish at the Melbourne Fish Markets. (Supplied: Melbourne Seafood Centre)

'Exactly like the toilet paper scenario'

Processor and exporter Steve Crocker usually exports lobster, abalone and live fish to overseas and mainland markets.

This time of year he would usually send about 1,500 kilograms of live fish to the markets in Sydney and Melbourne each week.

He is currently sending less than 400kg.

Seafood industry © ABC Seafood industry

"Our [Chinese] tourist numbers are not there anymore, and the local community are all concerned about dining in a Chinese restaurant," Mr Crocker said.

He said social media had scared people out of going to restaurants.

"It's fear factor of catching the virus in a restaurant, and it's pretty well unfounded," he said.

"It's exactly like the toilet paper scenario, it's just been blown out of all proportion and it affects so many people."

Seventy-eight fisherman are involved in the Tasmanian fishery and most are owner-operators who employ multiple deckhands.

Pictures: Coronoavirus (COVID 19) outbreak

"We sell live fish into the Sydney and Melbourne markets, it's been affected probably by 70 per cent … because no one is going out to buy fish," Shane Bevis, president of the Tasmanian Scalefish Fishermen's Association, said.

"People won't come out, they don't want to get the coronavirus, so no one is coming out to eat the healthy fish stocks."

The two main live fishery species in Tasmania that are affected are the banded morwong and the blue throated wrasse.

Seafood industry © ABC Seafood industry

"The wrasse are about 70 tonne a year, the morwong are on a fixed total allowable catch of about 30 tonne a year," Mr Bevis said.

Tasmanian seafood industry products such as rock lobster and abalone were already struggling through the spread of coronavirus.

"With world economics at the moment there is real concern, if the coronavirus spread like they are suggesting, that those high value luxury items might fall off the radar of consumers," said Julian Harrington, CEO of the Tasmanian Seafood Industry Council.

"But the longer this goes on, and the more the Australian public becomes exposed to the hysteria of coronavirus, people aren't going to be going to restaurants again."

Restaurants and retail suffering

Fish sales across the board are struggling in parts of Melbourne as customers turn away from restaurants and retailers.

Alvin Miao, owner of the Box Hill Fish Market, is struggling to sell all types of fish.

Seafood industry © ABC Seafood industry

"We are probably dropping [in trade] around 60 to 70 per cent," he said.

Box Hill has a high population of Chinese and Asian residents.

"They are not wanting to come out shopping here anymore, to protect themselves and their family," Mr Miao said.

He also sells fish wholesale to restaurants in the area.

"[Some] restaurants have been closed for two or three weeks on Station street which is next to us," Mr Miao said.

"And some of the restaurants in the shopping centre, they are only opening for lunch and closing really early."

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