Luck of the lobster in NZ

Koura, also known as crayfish or rock lobster, is big business for Ngati Kahungunu. For the past decade, Kahungunu has leased its crayfish quota to Fiordland Lobster Company, the largest and most-profitable live lobster export company in Australasia.

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Fiordland Lobster processes and exports a combined volume of 1,300 tonnes of live rock lobster to China each year from New Zealand and Australia. It pioneered live-crayfish exports, growing from small beginnings as a group of 18 fishermen from Te Anau who began exporting to Japan in the late 1980s.

" New Zealand crayfish is the Dom Perignon of seafood"
Taine Randell, Former All Blacks captain

Now it has operations across New Zealand as well as Australian states South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria, where the same species of rock lobster, jasus edwardsii, also thrives, Fiordland Lobster Company chief executive Alan Buckner says.

“Now we’ve got about 100 shareholders and the base is relatively diverse,” he says.

“Initially they were all fishermen, but today we also have shareholders who own quota, and some that just own shares. The secret to our success is having a strong value chain and sharing profit throughout it.”

In April, Kahungunu and Fiordland Lobster’s relationship entered a new phase with the opening of a state of the art lobster processing factory, the largest of its kind in Australasia, just 20 minutes’ drive from Auckland International Airport.

Kahungunu Assets Holding Company director and former All Blacks captain Taine Randell says this means a lobster can be plucked from our shores and served in a wedding banquet or as part of Chinese New Year celebrations in a matter of days.

“New Zealand crayfish is the Dom Perignon of seafood,” he says. “There’s nothing more expensive, and they’re highly prized. This means crayfish mortality and quality are really big issues.

“The longer the animals spend out of the water the greater the risk of the cray dying - which is obviously the worst case scenario - or the quality suffers. Now they arrive in the best possible condition. When you’re paying $NZ300 or $NZ400 for a crayfish, you want it to be exceptional.”


The $NZ6 million factory, owned by Kahungunu and leased to Fiordland Lobster, cements the positive working relationship the two organisations have formed.

In the nine years since they formed their quota lease agreement, Fiordland Lobster has seen its share price increase by 500 per cent while the iwi has received record dividend yields.

Buckner says the factory, which can house up to 27 tonnes of lobster at any one time, replicates the water conditions found in the sea.

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“We’ve developed a lot of knowledge, skill and technology over the years to help us create a pristine environment for the lobster,” he says. “Everything we know we’ve incorporated into the Auckland factory.”

The cost of lobster in China fluctuates throughout the year, with the biggest spike happening at Chinese New Year when demand goes up for the red, spiny crustaceans which the Chinese compare to dragons - a symbol of good luck.

“We’ve simplified our supply chain and being so close to the airport means we’ve got more flexibility while working with the Chinese market place,” Buckner says.

“Our lobster is the premium of the premium, and they’re consumed at special events like business banquets, weddings and Chinese New Year.”

Having the factory in Auckland means the company can respond quickly to demand spikes. The company is using a cross-border supply chain - supplying directly to the customer rather than an importer - and this new initiative also improves business.

“We offer our lobster via an e-commerce platform,” Buckner says. “Having the Auckland depot means we can respond rapidly to an order that may be of a relatively small size.

“The factory is performing well and we’re getting great feedback from customers on the health and quality of our lobsters landing in China.”


Randell says the success of the partnership has been that both companies are strident on sustainability practices.

“We’re passionate about our iwi and our assets,” he says. “There’s a perception our waters are being destroyed by overfishing, but where Fiordland Lobster Company operates the fish stocks are in great health. They’re managed in a sustainable way so there’s plenty of stock.

“Financially it’s very good as well. It’s really great for these little communities, provincial places where people are earning really good incomes, enjoying a good lifestyle and bringing money back to the communities.”

Sophie Speer is a contributor at BlueNotes

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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