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Baby Tassie oysters offer hope to NSW farmers

Baby Tassie oysters offer hope to NSW farmers

Millions of baby oysters have been shipped from Tasmania to offer hope to New South Wales growers whose harvests have been decimated by QX disease. 

Key points:

  • QX disease was first detected in Port Stephens oyster farms last year
  • Tasmanian growers have sent up millions of QX-resistant baby Pacific oysters to bolster affected farmers’ stocks
  • It will still be 12 months before cashflow returns to QX-impacted farmers

The parasite, which essentially blocks an oyster’s gut and « starves it to death », was first detected in Sydney rock oysters at Port Stephens last year.

It has crippled local businesses and had a wider impact on the state’s $50 million oyster industry.

« Farmers in Tilligerry Creek have seen some pretty significant losses there, » Port Stephens oyster grower Matt Burgoyne said.

« Mortalities of up to 90 per cent of their stock, from their baby stock right through to stock that they’re ready to sell. It’s really devastating.

« As of February this year the parasite seems to have spread rapidly throughout the whole of Port Stephens and there are really not any areas, harvest areas or growing areas, that are free from it. »

Port Stephens is renowned for producing Sydney rock oysters, but the Tasmanian deliveries will offer growers a chance to grow a different species — the Pacific oyster.

A man on a boat looks out to sea.

Matt Burgoyne’s farm has been operating in Port Stephens for more than 60 years.(Supplied: XL Oysters)

The Tasmanian Pacific oysters will also go to producers in the Hawkesbury region.

« [They are] disease resistant, they’re not susceptible to the QX parasite and so we see it at the moment as really our only way forward to keeping farms viable and being able to trade into the future, » Mr Burgoyne said.

Pacific oyster farmer Ellen Duke is the third generation of growers from southern Tasmania.

After hearing of the Port Stephens QX outbreak, she said it really hit home.

« These growers were going through such a hard time … the floods and now QX, » she said.

« We really feel their pain because we went through something really similar with [Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome] down in Tasmania. »

Spat welcome but no quick fix

Millions of baby oysters, or spat, have been sent in what Ms Duke said was only the first batch.

But they would take about 12 months to grow to a sellable size.

Tiny, baby oysters in a lady's hand. There are more in a bucket below.

It will take 12 to 18 months for these baby oysters, or spat, to grow to a saleable size.(Supplied: Yumbah Aquaculture)

« Farmers are still up against a year without income, » Mr Burgoyne said.

« The mood in Port Stephens is very sombre.

« We’ve got generational oyster farms, farms that have farmers who are ready to retire and reap the rewards of many years of hard work, and a lot of that at the moment has lost value and seems to have come to nothing. »

The Pacific oysters mature twice as fast as Sydney rock oysters and Ms Duke said many farmers produced both.

« What the Pacifics can do, hopefully, is give them a bit of risk diversification, » she said.

Research is underway in a bid to breed QX-resistant Sydney rock oysters but little progress has been made to date.

Mr Burgoyne held on to hope that the region would get back to producing its high-quality oysters in the coming years.

« We pride ourselves in NSW on being able to grow Sydney rock oysters and it’s obviously an oyster that is a point of difference and traditionally has always been sought after, » he said.

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