Oyster industry has an eye on the future

South Australia’s oyster growers have heard about battling against Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome (POMS) and the latest research and development updates at the South Australia Oyster Industry 2018 Seminar at Smoky Bay last week.

Presenters speaking to participants across the three-day event included local and interstate oyster growers, researchers and others working within the oyster industry.

Topics ranging from Tasmanian growers speaking about how they have been dealing with POMS to updates on local hatcheries, research and studies, and a new app to help oyster growers, were covered during the seminar, which attracted about 100 participants from across the state and beyond.

South Australian Oyster Growers Association (SAOGA) executive officer Trudy McGowan said the seminar presented useful information for South Australian oyster growers.

“POMS was the main topic, we heard interesting things from Tasmania and how we can learn from that in South Australia,” she said.

“Another topic was the ‘Mishell’ app which is being launched and is a stock management tool which will allow growers to enter data on stock and will note where stock has come from so if there is an issue with disease we can trace movement.”

Ms McGowan said the industry was bracing itself for hardships brought upon by the outbreak of POMS to continue until 2020.

“We expected reasonable spat over the 2017-18 spring and summer but that didn’t come through, so we hope to get a good lot this summer, but it will be difficult until 2020,” she said.

“Growers are doing different things to get through, some are doing other work on the side or reducing costs, and waiving lease fees has helped.

“Seminars like this are important as people talk and share with each other and realise they are not alone.”

One grower who has branched out is Coffin Bay’s Chris Hank of Pure Coffin Bay Oysters, who said in this downturn he was producing about half the oysters of a normal year.

Pure Coffin Bay Oysters has expanded its tourism operations from shed tours to running boat tours to take people out to the farm.

“It has received a good response from people and it has definitely helped out,” Mr Hank said.

He said he was “optimistic” things would return to normal in a few years.

“There’s not much more you can do except tighten your belt, and you go to seminars like this to pick up information and network,” Mr Hank said.

“It’s good to hear from people from Tasmania to find out how they are working through.

“There has been progress in the last two years since the Tasmanian outbreak and SA is better prepared, so hopefully hatcheries come on line and things go back to normal.”

“When we come out of it we will be more resilient than before and be self-reliant hatchery-wise, which will give us reassurances if borders need to be closed that we have supply.”

South Australian Oyster Growers Association president Rob Kerin

Simon Turner said his Turner’s Oyster Farm at Cowell was also down about 50 per cent from usual production.

“I have been oyster farming for 27 years and this is certainly the toughest period – it is a frustrating period, financially and mentally hard,” he said.

“There is enough on the farm to keep the doors open, but it is a battle to keep up staff and morale.

“It is encouraging to hear hatchery stories and get an update on where the industry is, it gives you hopes because we did have time to prepare.”

POMS did reach South Australia earlier this year when it was detected in the Port River, however the disease did not spread to other regions.

With bodies such as Primary Industries and Region South Australia and the South Australian Research and Development Institute undertaking the latest oyster research, the industry hopes to keep POMS at bay or at least be prepared to deal with a potential outbreak.

In response to the 2016 Tasmanian outbreak, the South Australian industry has worked to become more self-reliant with spat production and the new Eyre Shellfish hatchery at Cowell was a step in that direction.

SAOGA president Rob Kerin believes the industry will come out of this downturn stronger.

“Oyster growing is reliant on research and science, and biosecurity is a real issue for us – the way POMS affected Tasmania holds lessons and we need to understand how to best avoid that, or if it arrives here, how we operate with POMS in the population,” he said.

“We need to keep working to make sure the wild population is kept down in keep areas, largely where shipping occurs as that is the biggest possible threat to introduce POMS.

“When we come out of it we will be more resilient than before and be self-reliant hatchery-wise, which will give us reassurances if borders need to be closed that we have supply.”

Mr Kerin said the key in the upcoming years was for growers to watch costs and “farm what you have well”, while he said government support and research undertaken was most appreciated.

Bruce Zippel from Smoky Bay’s Zippel’s Oysters said once the industry came out the other side it had to announce it was faring better.

“The biggest challenge is what happens in 2020, it is still up in the air – but the industry will need to embark on a media campaign to let consumers know the industry is back,” he said.

“I think we need to allow the public to get a more hands-on feel with the product and my belief is we need to change the name of an oyster grower to something else, to create a more sophisticated persona similar to a ‘vigneron’ to give people a greater understanding of the product and the people behind it.

“On February 1, 2016 our world changed forever, but hopefully in the long term it will be better off.”