Stewart Island community 'furious' about oyster cull decision

Ministry for Primary Industries readiness and response manager Geoff Gwyn addresses about 100 people at a meeting about ...

Ministry for Primary Industries readiness and response manager Geoff Gwyn addresses about 100 people at a meeting about the removal of Oysters on Stewart Island on Tuesday night.

An tense crowd yelled at government officials and threatened legal action at a meeting on Stewart Island over the decision to remove farmed oysters from the region.

Ministry of Primary industries started removing the oysters from Big Glory Bay on Monday without undertaking further testing for the parasite Bonamia ostreae in Foveaux Strait.

About 100 people attended the public meeting, with one person calling for the ministry's director to resign, and others accusing the ministry of making "a balls-up", and of mismanagement.

Locals on the island demanded to know why urgent testing hasn't been undertaken in Foveaux Strait.

* Iconic Bluff oysters could be lost
* Oysters to be removed by crane
* Bluff oyster farmers fear for their future

Ministry representatives, including scientists and compliance officers, a representative from the Rural Support Trust, and Southland District mayor Gary Tong fronted a tense and, at times, angry crowd.

Ministry readiness and response manager Geoff Gwyn told the meeting he knew the Stewart Island community was "at the sharp end of this", but that the ministry was focusing on destroying and controlling the spread of the parasite.

But people at the meeting were furious all commercially farmed oysters were being removed from Big Glory Bay without further testing in Foveaux Strait.

Foveaux Strait was last tested for traces of the parasite in February and March, and is due to be tested again in September.

One man said he did not understand how the ministry had not tested in the strait since February, but yet it was "going to lay waste to everything out there [in Big Glory Bay]".

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Ministry scientist Mike Taylor said he was confident the parasite had not spread to the strait or that, if it had, it was in very low levels.

He said it could take weeks or even months for the parasite to show up in tests after it became present in a fishery, and that the best time for testing was when the water was warmer.

Gwyn told the meeting that even if the parasite was found in the strait, the ministry "would still be doing what we're doing today."

The members of the public responded with a loud "why?".

Several members of the public asked whether, if the community funded testing of Foveaux Strait, the ministry would take the results into consideration for planning its' next steps.

Gwyn said he would take the request on board and respond by the end of the week.

Another person at the meeting said they couldn't understand why the ministry had decided to take the oysters out in Big Glory Bay now, but not in Marlborough when the parasite was first detected in 2015.

Gwyn said "hindsight was a wonderful thing" but that he stood by his former decisions, and that they were made based on the technical advice at the time.

The ministry's goal was to reduce and remove disease pressure, but he said eradication was not an option.

"There is no zero risk option here."

At least one farm in Marlborough had experienced 95 per cent mortality of oysters, and if the oysters in Big Glory Bay were not removed now, within two years it was likely there would be no farms left, he said.

Many people were concerned with how the parasite got to the island, and some said there were allegations of a specific boat, and a specific company that may have breached regulations in force in Marlborough to stop it spreading from there.

Gwyn said there was a separate investigation under way into those allegations, which he was not part of, and if there was sufficient evidence to prove someone had breached the notices in place in Marlborough, they would be prosecuted.

 - Stuff

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