Oysters to be removed by crane, taken to Bluff landfill for disposal
The Ministry for Primary Industries has detailed its removal of flat oysters from commercial farms in Stewart Island - to start Monday.
The removal is a bid to halt the spread of Bonamia ostreae, which farmers fear could devastate the Bluff oyster industry.
Bonamia ostreae can be fatal for flat oysters, and has been in New Zealand since at least 2015 in the Marlborough Sounds and Nelson.
In May, the parasite was found in Stewart Island - the first time it has been found in another area of New Zealand.
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Information from the ministry says the oysters will be uplifted by crane, then securely transported by vessel and truck to a landfill in Bluff for disposal.
Once they were lifted, the oysters would be disinfected, placed in a vessel and then wrapped.
The wrapping would provide a barrier to prevent the contamination of surfaces during transport.
All vessels to transport oysters would be disinfected and cleaned prior to leaving the bay to ensure there was no residue or infected material on the side of the vessel.
The vessels that transported the oysters would take an indirect route from Stewart Island that avoided passing near oyster fisheries in Foveaux Strait and sites of significance to local iwi.
Further cleaning would take place at the port upon landing, and trucks would be disinfected before leaving.
Oysters would be securely transported to the landfill, where they would be quickly buried under lime and dirt to provide protection from vermin and ensure rapid decomposition.
Trucks would be cleaned again prior to leaving the landfill.
MPI readiness and response director Geoff Gwyn said their aim was to complete the work with minimal disruption to the local community.
The ministry acknowledged the strong feeling among locals to act quickly and minimise any chance of further spread during the removal process, Gwyn said.
"It is a starting point that we will build on as we progress to other oyster farms that use ropes rather than cages."
The plan was the result of talks with a wide range of stakeholder groups, including Environment Southland, the Southland District Council and local iwi.
"We will be engaging further with local communities to ensure they have an opportunity to influence some of the finer details," he said.
"This includes community meetings in Stewart Island and Bluff this week that will give local people the opportunity to ask questions about the plan."
Gwyn said the ministry was continuing to support local farmers affected by the removal.
They were providing operational assistance, advice on how to receive compensation and other support as required, he said.
The removal operation was "a huge task", he said.
"We are thankful for the support of the community and assistance from oyster farmers to make it happen."
Ministry spokeswoman Nicky Prendergast said the next stage would be to remove the oysters that grew on ropes.
Timing for removal of those on ropes was unclear, and would depend on how long the removal of oysters in cages took, she said.
The removal by crane was about "efficiency and practicality", she said.
"The oyster cages are around 40-60kg each and we'll be lifting four at a time.
"This is just too heavy for people to move, so a crane is the most efficient way to move them from the freighter on to the trucks."
Sanford is the second largest quota holder for the Bluff wild oyster fisheries, as well as being part of a joint venture in one of two farms in the affected area.
Sanford Limited corporate communications manager Fiona MacMillan said the time for removal was unknown and weather-dependant.
"We will learn as we're doing it, and improve it as we go," she said.
All Sanford's oysters removed from Big Glory Bay would be destroyed, she said.
"We're confident it's the correct way to go."
Bluff Oyster Management Company operations manager Graeme Wright said the plan sounded like a good start.
"All the people who have been involved in that project have been pretty happy with those who have made the plan."
Wright said he was sure the ministry was doing the best it could.
Since the decision to act was made last week, the response from the ministry had been good, he said.
"Getting the decision made was longer than we would have liked but we had to appreciate that there was a lot of things to consider," he said.
"At the end of the day, we have to hope and believe that these measures are the best we can do to protect the fishery."