Signs suggest swell season for oysters

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 16/02/2013

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Oyster lovers can expect big and juicy oysters this season, with early indications pointing to a repeat of last year's bumper catch.

The season starts on March 1.

In 2012, the Bluff oyster fishery showed signs of growth allowing the industry to harvest two million more oysters than previous years after the industry's quota was formally increased.

A self-regulated limit of 9.53 million oysters was bumped up to 11.5 million for the 2012 season after discussions between the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, the Primary Industries Ministry, oyster boat skippers and quota owners.

Bluff Oyster Management Company spokesman Graeme Wright said quota owners would start the new season able to catch the increased quota of 11.5 million.

"That is the proposed quota but the commercial catch limit is subject to change if any drastic results emerge from scientific testing for bonamia," Mr Wright said.

Early expectations were for it to be business as usual this year, he said. "Catch and release dredging samples in the oyster beds have looked good and hopefully we will see a lot of big juicy Bluff oysters again this year."

Niwa fisheries scientist Keith Michael said the organisation would hopefully wrap up pre-season survey work early next week.

Surveys in core commercial fishery areas in Foveaux Strait indicated the fishery was continuing to rebuild after being devastated by bonamia in the past, Mr Michael said.

Bonamia caused major disruption to the fishery between 1985-1993, and again from 2000- 2005. Since 2006, oyster mortality from bonamia has been relatively low, and the oyster fishery has been rebuilding.

There had been no indication from early samples of any significant disease. However, the official results and a final decision about the health of the Bluff oyster beds would not be determined until mid-March, Mr Michael said.

A new DNA sampling technique being trialled had allowed scientists to test a large number of oysters but those results would need to be compared to the accepted, but time-consuming method, using a blood sample from the oysters, he said.

The final results would be reviewed by Niwa in conjunction with the Ministry of Primary Industries and industry stakeholders, Mr Michael said.

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