Bluff oyster farming companies may not have a future after cull video

JOHN HAWKINS/Fairfax NZ

Farmed Stewart Island oysters infected with Bonamia ostreae are unloaded in Bluff under MPI supervision.

Bluff oyster farming companies say they may not have a future as 4000 tonnes of the sought after shellfish are removed from Stewart Island.

On Monday, MPI started removing the flat oysters from Big Glory Bay after the ministry ordered the urgent removal of all stock in the hope to prevent the spread of the parasite Bonamia ostraeae.

It is hoped the cull will prevent the spread of the parasite to the Foveaux Strait wild fisheries, which could potentially decimate the iconic Bluff oyster.

Flat oysters were uplifted from Big Glory Bay, Stewart Island on Monday as part of the Ministry for Primary Industries' ...
KAVINDA HERATH/FAIRFAX NZ

Flat oysters were uplifted from Big Glory Bay, Stewart Island on Monday as part of the Ministry for Primary Industries' move to prevent the spread of the parasite Bonamia ostreae.

Bluff Oyster Management operations manager Graeme Wright said if Bonamia ostreae got into the wild fishery "it could be catastrophic".

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"The bluff fishery is an iconic wild fishery and we just have to do whatever we can do to save it."

The oysters will be transported to the landfill, where they will be quickly buried under lime and dirt to provide ...
KAVINDA HERATH/FAIRFAX NZ

The oysters will be transported to the landfill, where they will be quickly buried under lime and dirt to provide protection from vermin and ensure rapid decomposition.

He said the big question was how the parasite got to Big Glory Bay in the first place. 

While most farms in the area also farm mussels, NZ Bluff Oyster Co focuses entirely on oysters.

General manager Rodney Clark said it did not appear the business of 14 years would have a future after the cull, as it expected to lose millions of shellfish.

The flat oysters were transferred to the Foveaux Freighter to be taken to Bluff.
KAVINDA HERATH/FAIRFAX NZ

The flat oysters were transferred to the Foveaux Freighter to be taken to Bluff.

They were yet to start removing their oysters, but Clark said crews were on stand-by to be deployed at the MPI's word. 

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Clark said he would have loved to have sold his oysters, as the parasite is not harmful to people, but the biosecurity measures in place "do not work with food safety requirements". 

Ministry national biosecurity capabilities network manager Andrew Sander said the first day of the operation had ideal weather conditions.

Kavinda Herath / Fairfax NZ

Sander said the ministry would have a better idea on the time frame for the removal after a few runs were completed.

On Monday, the team aimed to pull 180 cages from the water, with each cage weighing between 40kg and 66kg, he said.

"It's the first day that we've tried it, and we've made kind of a living document that we can improve over time," Sander said. 

"We're looking at ways we can speed things up." 

Seafood company Sanford owned some of the first oysters pulled up. 

General manager corporate communications Fiona MacMillan said getting the oyster cages out of the water had "gone pretty well".

"We will continue to talk to MPI about any refinements we might be able to make to the process, but overall we are pretty satisfied."

While she could not speak for other farms, it was likely to have a "minimal" business impact for Sanford.

"Obviously losing the oysters is very disappointing."

MacMillan said Sanford expected to have their stocks out of the water within two weeks, dependant on the weather.

On Sunday, it had been announced that vessels transporting oysters would take an indirect route from Stewart Island.

The indirect route avoided passing oyster fisheries in Foveaux Strait and sites of significance to local iwi. 

However, on Monday, Sander said the ministry received an iwi blessing to take the direct route, just as the freighter was leaving. 

The long route to Stewart Island took five hours, and the direct route was just two hours, he said. 

Sander said the first day of removal went "really well" overall.

"The main development was getting that shorter route approved," he said. 

"We're taking it day by day, and we will be able to paint a picture as we go each day.

"Today was our first day, so it was our chance to assess things and get a feel for how long it's going to take." 

Tomorrow would be "exactly the same", he said. 

"We're continuing to uplift the cages, and continuing to uplift with the crane." 

The ministry did not have information on how many had been removed so far, he said.

"We're aiming for about 120 cages [daily]." 

Need to know:

  • Bonamia ostreae was first found in oysters near Stewart Island on May 24.
  • The parasite, which is fatal in flat oysters, has been in the Marlborough Sounds and Nelson since 2015. 
  • An estimated 4000 tonnes of farmed oysters on Stewart Island could be affected, and will be pulled up and destroyed.
  • Though the parasite is not harmful to humans, the biosecurity measures in place to stop the spread do not meet food safety requirements, so the shellfish will be thrown out. 
  • The cull is to prevent the parasite spreading to the wild oyster beds in Foveaux Strait, where Bluff Oysters are taken on an annual quota system. This year's quota is 10 million oysters, or just over 1000 tonnes. 

 - Stuff

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