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Business envoy July 2021

True South Seafood: a sea urchin pivot

True South Seafood is one of Australia’s largest abalone exporters, having transformed from modest beginnings in 1996 to being a premium supplier of quality Tasmanian wild-caught live abalone and New Zealand Pāua.

Beth Mathison, CEO, True South Seafood, consulting with staff. Image credit: DFAT

The pandemic presented logistical challenges for True South Seafood in exporting their abalone and, as there was no Australian market to accommodate 450 tonnes of product, True South Seafood relied heavily on their alternative product, the invasive sea urchin. The company had moved to diversify its product lines over the last three years understanding that the abalone quota in Australia would need to be reduced to allow for regeneration of the marine habitat that was being decimated by over-fishing and sea urchin invasion due to climate change. The company pivoted their business model and started processing and exporting sea urchins into Japan. Sea urchin roe is prized as a delicacy in Asia and exports have now also begun to USA, Canada and Malaysia.

Australia’s trading economy is resilient because it is spread across multiple economies around the globe. Twelve of our fifteen largest trading partners are in Asia and most of that trade is covered by free trade agreements. Australian businesses that diversify the range of products and services that they export and the overseas markets into which they sell, are better placed to withstand global economic shocks and supply chain disruptions.

While live abalone remains the core of the True South seafood business, it has invested substantially in the sustainability of its business model amid challenging economic circumstances, ensuring secure jobs for Australians. True South Seafood is the largest employer of locals with 20 full-time staff plus an additional 60 casuals when the centro (long spine sea urchin) is in season.

Sea urchin roe ready for export. Image credit: True South
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