THE south-west's rock lobster industry has come to a grinding halt as China's response to the coronavirus causes the crayfish export market to shutdown.
Processors began informing south-west fishers last week they would stop accepting further rock lobster catches, leaving the small-business owners in limbo.
The decision follows a flood of cancelled export orders during Chinese New Year, usually the industry's busiest time, with stock now piling up in some Australian factories.
Rock lobster fisherman David McCarthy was one of about six in Portland this week unable to deliver their catch to a contracted factory.
Mr McCarthy now has fears he won't fish again for months.
"It is a shock. It's very unexpected to be this severe," he said. "The factories can't handle what they have now let alone any more."
Rock lobster fishers are required to buy a quota that caps their total catch in Victorian waters for the financial year.
But with almost all of Victoria's rock lobster exported, mostly to Asia, the shutdown has left fishers worried they have paid for quotas they now won't reach.
It's a $200 million export industry hanging in limbo.- Callum McCarthy
Mr McCarthy said that could leave him with "hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of uncaught fish".
He said selling to the domestic market was "just not viable" due to the quota's high price.
"If this resolves itself in a month it would be a big help, but I don't think it will," he said.
Mr McCarthy removed 130 cray pots from waters off Portland on Wednesday, and said his son and a deck hand would now be out of work.
Apollo Bay-based Victorian Rock Lobster Association president Markus Nolle said between 50 and 60 south-west fishers "downed tools" this week.
"This would be their peak fishing period of the year and they are having to stop work," Mr Nolle said.
"It's a $200 million export industry hanging in limbo."
Mr Nolle said the government needed to take action.
"If it gets to the point where it looks like the quotas won't be reached, rolling over the quota to next financial year is a good idea," he said.
But Mr Nolle believed the rock lobster industry was only the first to be caught by the ripple effects of the virus.
"The reality is other south-west industries will be impacted," he said.
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