Far North seafood industry’s Hong Kong lifeline

AN EXPORT life raft is about to appear for the Far North seafood industry with a new weekly freight flight to Hong Kong starting tomorrow.

The ink has just settled on a new Qantas agreement to operate a weekly Boeing A330 run from Brisbane to Cairns to Hong Kong packed with about 45 tonnes of local seafood.

The deal comes at a critical moment for a hogtied seafood industry struggling to make ends meet with only minimal export opportunities due to coronavirus travel bans.

It should almost triple the current volume of airfreight leaving the Cairns Airport in an expanded holding pattern until normal flights resume.

Tomorrow's flight builds on the existing Qantas Sydney-Cairns-Hong Kong weekly export route and its 25 tonnes of freight space.

Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch said the plane would be "chock-a-block" full of seafood sourced from local fishermen.

"This is exactly the type of support our local seafood industry needs right now given there isn't any commercial planes flying in and out of Tropical North Queensland," he said.

Qantas A330 passenger aircraft flying freight missions. SUPPLIED
Qantas A330 passenger aircraft flying freight missions. SUPPLIED

"With these flights now locked in, local lobster, coral trout and other fishers from across the region will have the certainty they need to get back into the water, knowing they can get their product to overseas customers once again."

Thousands of jobs are riding on the plan going off without a hitch - and, if possible, growing even further in the coming weeks and months.

The hand-caught tropical rock lobster industry alone employs more than 1500 people in Cairns and Papua New Guinea.

More than 600 tonnes of live and frozen lobster is exported through the Cairns Airport each year with an estimated worth of about $45 million.

Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch was excited after Qantas signed a deal for a weekly freight route taking fresh seafood and other produce from Cairns to Hong Kong. PICTURE: SUPPLIED
Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch was excited after Qantas signed a deal for a weekly freight route taking fresh seafood and other produce from Cairns to Hong Kong. PICTURE: SUPPLIED

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said the new flights were a major step towards getting the seafood industry back on its feet.

He said the flights were part of the Federal Government's $110 million International Freight Assistance Mechanism.

"We recognise the current coronavirus crisis has placed immense pressure on local seafood exporters, many of whom felt the earliest impacts when overseas demand began to dry up in January," Mr Birmingham said.

"With demand returning, it's absolutely critical local fishers are able to get their quality product out of the water and onto planes headed for key export markets such as Hong Kong."

Originally published as Far North seafood industry's Hong Kong lifeline