New Zealand's lucrative live rock lobster exports took a nearly $38 million hit from Covid-19 over just eight weeks this year, trade data shows.

The sector was second only to forestry as export products most heavily affected by the virus impact in February and March, said the Ministry for Primary Industries in a new economic update report.

While most other New Zealand primary sector exports showed little sign of slowdown from the pandemic, live rock lobster trade - mostly by airfreight to China - was down 87 per cent.

Log exports in the same two months forfeited nearly $309m to the effects of the pandemic, down 43 per cent on February and March 2019, said the report.


The rock lobster export industry normally earns around $320m a year and employs 250 vessels and 2500 people directly and indirectly.

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From February to April, rock lobster revenue to all New Zealand's markets was down 82 per cent on the same period last year, said MPI.

New Zealand's $1.9 billion seafood export sector generally took a significant Covid-19 hit, first with China's lockdown, then with New Zealand's, the report said.

Export revenue was down 21 per cent since the beginning of February.

The Chinese market was recovering but with restaurants and eateries closed around the world, food service demand for seafood remained low.

With 35 per cent of New Zealand seafood exports going to China, fresh seafood was affected by Covid-19 earlier than other primary industries.

In February alone, fresh seafood export revenue to China fell 68 per cent, mostly due to declines in airfreighted rock lobster.


The report said the Chinese market was slowly recovering and seafood markets were beginning to re-open which would ease export constraints on live rock lobster at least.

Monthly export data showed rock lobster exports had increased slightly in April but remained well below normal.

Other seafood species which recorded significant export revenue falls included farmed salmon and deepwater fish such as hoki, the report said.

Along with demand, prices had fallen for many species.

The report noted that rock lobster fishers had the opportunity to increase catch this season, which started on April 1, with up to 10 per cent of last season's annual catch entitlement able to be carried over - an estimated 117.6 tonnes.

MPI's prognosis for the seafood export sector for the rest of the year wasn't comforting.

Decreased food service demand, limited airfreight capacity and softening of consumer demand overall in markets such as the US, Japan and Europe, would continue to present challenges for the sector, the report said.

Covid-19 disruption to aviation has also had a major impact on seafood exports.

More than 30 per cent of seafood exports valued at $593m were airfreighted in the year to June last year. Most are carried on passenger flights, severely curtailed by global travel restrictions.