WA’s 230 commercial rock lobster operators have stopped fishing — just weeks into the start of the 2020 season — because Chinese demand has dried up following movement restrictions aimed at containing the deadly coronavirus. The industry-wide pause — the first ever non-Government mandated halt to WA lobster fishing — started on Saturday and will last until at least Wednesday, with processors tomorrow aiming to get more clarity on the situation in China, which buys 90 per cent of the State’s lobsters. Western Rock Lobster Council chairman Terry Lissiman confirmed WA’s four major processors had stopped receiving crayfish, because of low demand driven by restrictions in China requiring people to stay indoors. Mr Lissiman said while it was disappointing to not fish at the time of year when prices were normally high because of Chinese New Year celebrations, fishermen understood the reasons. “It was a decision by the processors but a prudent measure given the market in China has dropped drastically during what is normally a peak period,” he said. He said by contrast, there was no such stoppage of lobster fishing during the 2003 SARS outbreak, when a drying up of Asian demand meant lobster prices fell as low as $14/kg. The 2020 WA rock lobster season started on January 15, and each fisherman has a quota for their catch across the year. “The pause is not the end of the world because the quota system — as opposed to the earlier input-based system with a 7.5 month season — means fishermen have the flexibility to still catch their crays later in the year within their quota,” Mr Lissiman said. “The caveat of course is that we don’t really know how long this will last or what will happen, and we are missing out supplying our crays when demand is particularly strong.” He said boats across Australia were affected. Geraldton Fishermen’s Co-Operative — which receives 60 per cent of the state’s catch — said it hoped to give fishermen some direction about next steps tomorrow afternoon - after contacting markets. GFC chief executive Matt Rutter said the pause on receiving crays had wider reaching impacts, for example casual staff, and truck drivers responsible for moving crays had been temporarily stood down. Concerns would heighten if the standstill stretched beyond Wednesday, he said. Mr Rutter said prior to the outbreak, fishermen were fetching between $64 and $105kg, depending on size, with most around the $70/kg mark. Meanwhile, other high value products to China such as chilled lamb could be affected, but sellers were waiting to receive some direction this week, after the Chinese New Year holiday period ends.