Fiordland lobster heli-lift a fresh approach to Auckland fuel crisis

Fiordland Lobster Company South Island manager Grant Walker guides Richard Hayes, in his BK helicopter, as he brings in ...
Barry Harcourt

Fiordland Lobster Company South Island manager Grant Walker guides Richard Hayes, in his BK helicopter, as he brings in another load of the 6 tonne of lobsters worth an estimated $500,000 that were airlifted to Manapouri Airport on Saturday by helicopter companies Southern Lakes and Te Anau Helicopter services.

It was first class travel all the way for a southern delicacy at the weekend.

After recent issues with the supply of aviation fuel to Auckland Airport, due to a damaged pipeline, Fiordland Lobster Company, in Te Anau, became concerned last week about getting a large export order successfully to market.

Thanks to the assistance of Southern Lakes Helicopters, Te Anau Helicopter Services and Air Chathams, the company was able to airlift about 5.5 tonnes of live rock lobster from its southern fishing vessels on Saturday, and dispatch it via Te Anau Airport to its Auckland factory for grading.

South Island operations manager Grant Walker said without the two-hour, seven-journey helicopter operation, the company would have missed out on a "significant selling opportunity" aligning with major Chinese festivals. 

"Demand from China traditionally picks up around China National Day (October 1-3) and the mid-autumn festival on October 4, and we wanted to be sure we didn't miss out on that opportunity. This system for freight is something we hadn't tried before, but it's gone perfectly, so we're very pleased."

Fiordland Lobsters used three helipads in Fiordland, at Blanket Bay, Sunday Cove, and on Charles Sound, to transfer its catch to helicopter from four fishing vessels using special, designed-for-purpose helicopter tubs.

About 200 tubs were flown out of Fiordland on Saturday during a two-hour period, equating to about 10,000 live lobster, with a market value of more than $500,000, Walker said.

The Fiordland rock lobster was considered the sweetest tasting and most succulent variety of lobster available and was highly sought after in Asia, where it was the "lobster of choice," particularly at the Chinese dinner table.

Fiordland Lobsters exported about 450 tonnes each year, exclusively to China.

"[The] airlift allowed us to get the lobster to our East Tamaki factory for grading in pristine condition, and soon they'll be hitting the Chinese market and receiving further distribution," Walker said.

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"Hopefully we won't get a similar situation arise in future but, if something comes up, we know we're well covered by local facilities."

 - Stuff

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