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From one extreme to another: Southland lobster company reflects on unforgettable year

New Zealand's live lobster export industry is one of many businesses to feel the effects of Covid-19.

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Fiordland Lobster Company has seen both extremes, from months of complete shutdown to booming sales for the rest of the year. Source: 1 NEWS

Fiordland Lobster Company has seen both extremes, from months of complete shutdown to booming sales for the rest of the year.

The kaimoana is one of our most precious seafoods that lurk in the cooler waters off Fiordland's coast and other parts of the country.

But in 2020, it has been a case of ‘sink and swim’ due to the global pandemic.

The business, based out of Te Anau in Southland, makes up a third of the highly valuable live lobster export market.

For chief executive Alan Buckner, the impact on his business stretches back to the start of the year.

“We were having a great season leading into Chinese New Year, which was late January, and our business just stopped. We had heard what was happening in Wuhan and realised it was not just Wuhan, it was China… and we had three months of no business.”

New Zealand’s lobster trade is a massive money earner for the economy, bringing in more than $300m every year.

Ninety per cent of the seafood at Fiordland Lobster Company heads straight to China.

It's a massive operation to get it there, from catching the kaimoana, helicoptering it out, transferring the lobster in trucks to the Te Anau holding plant where it is sorted and flown from Christchurch.

It has been able to run again thanks to China's handling of Covid-19 and Government funding for non-perishable goods.

“We rebounded really well. As an industry and for most of the primary sector that have export market places, and particularly the drive from China, they did a great job of getting their economy up and running again,” Buckner said.

That meant jobs here could be saved.

One employee, Geoff, said, “[It’s] good, busy enough, just keeping out of mischief.”

James Airey, who has worked at the plant for four years, said, “It just bounced back and it has been pretty mental ever since, so it has been good.”

But it still comes with challenges which can change daily.

A Covid-19 scare in China caused another setback last month.

“At the Shanghai Airport… 16,000 employees were tested so it disturbed the whole management of our logistics, meaning we went on hold for seven days.”

Factory manager Paul Fountain said, “You've got to be on the ball always, expect the unexpected and accept things that are beyond your control.”

This year delivered one extreme to the other, but Alan Buckner’s best way to sum up 2020?

“A year I will never forget.”