Aus­tralian seafood gets wings

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By BLOOMBERG

In shark-in­fested wa­ters off the Aus­tralian is­land of Tas­ma­nia, Dean Lis­son spends five hours a day div­ing for abalone.

Dodg­ing the sharks is his first chal­lenge. Get­ting the catch alive to hun­gry Chi­nese din­ers is the next.

Live sea snails that cost A$40 ($31) a kilo­gram in Australia change hands for A$60 a kilo in Hong Kong, said Lis­son. The chewy flesh is a prized in­gre­di­ent in tra­di­tional Chi­nese cui­sine. Cathay Pa­cific Air­ways Ltd, Sin­ga­pore Air­lines Ltd and Qan­tas Air­ways Ltd are fill­ing up their lug­gage holds car­ry­ing seafood on the 8,000 kilo­me­ter jour­ney.

“We want to get it to the mar­ket in the best pos­si­ble con­di­tion,” says Lis­son. “The live prod­uct is at the pre­mium end: you’ve got to look af­ter it.”

Australia sends about A$1.6 bil­lion of food over­seas by plane each year, mak­ing it the coun­try’s big­gest air­borne ex­port af­ter gold and medicine. The trade in abalone and rock lob­ster alone was val­ued at about A$761 mil­lion in the 12 months ended June, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment data — up about 31 per­cent from the A$581 mil­lion to­tal three years ear­lier. Nearly 90 per­cent of the coun­try’s seafood is ex­ported by air.

Ex­ports to China of the two shell­fish are worth more to Australia than those of wine or dairy prod­ucts, ac­cord­ing to the Abalone Coun­cil, an in­dus­try group. They’ll ben­e­fit fur­ther from a free-trade deal signed in Novem­ber that will cut China’s tar­iffs from 15 per­cent to zero by 2018.

The agree­ment “will open up the mar­ket for us”, Nigel Chynoweth, Australia cargo manager at Cathay Pa­cific, says, al­low­ing the car­rier to sup­ply smaller cities in west­ern and north­east­ern China from its Hong Kong hub.

Cathay cur­rently car­ries as much as 20 tons per flight of lob­sters from Perth air­port and charges four to five times more to ship seafood than it does for fruit and veg­eta­bles, he says. The ex­port growth has been driven by grow­ing Chi­nese wealth and chang­ing con­sumer tastes, as well as im­prove­ments in the air­borne sup­ply chain, he adds.

“The Chi­nese pop­u­la­tion is be­com­ing more worldly in terms of ap­pre­ci­a­tion for this prod­uct,” Chynoweth said, re­fer­ring to lob­ster. “It’s not just in the high-end restau­rants.”

Abalone (as shown in pic­ture above) is a prized in­gre­di­ent in Chi­nese cui­sine — one of nine seafoods, in­clud­ing shark’s fin, sea cu­cum­ber, and cut­tle­fish roe, de­scribed in the a culi­nary clas­sic by 18th cen­tury poet and gourmet Yuan Mei.

The most-prized va­ri­ety is still the dried abalone pro­duced around the north­ern Chi­nese port of Dalian, ac­cord­ing to Mark Wang, ex­ec­u­tive sous chef at Shang­hai’s Fair­mont Peace Ho­tel.

Dry­ing pro­duces about 200 grams per 1.5 km of fresh meat, which then has to be soaked and braised in a “very com­pli­cated pro­duc­tion process” tak­ing as long as a week, he says.

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