About 500 tonnes of rock lobster will be shipped from Perth to China as the valuable export market gets back on track after being smashed by coronavirus.

The outbreak triggered an abrupt stop to rock lobster exports in January when China scrambled to lockdown its borders.

With demand returning, Western Australia’s Geraldton Fisherman’s Co-operative will pack 18 flights full of western rock lobster onto planes out of Perth over the next two months.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said the new agreement would save jobs in an industry hit hard by the crisis.

“This will be a lifeline for the industry. These flights will help get WA’s rock lobster industry back on track,” he said on Thursday.

“We recognise the current crisis is placing immense pressure on Western Australia’s seafood exporters, many of whom felt the earliest impacts when overseas demand began to dry up.”

The new agreement is part of the Morrison government’s $110 million for special export flights, which will pick up some of the slack created by the sharp downturn in commercial aviation.