Two words you never want to hear

Farmed Oysters infected with Bomamaia ostreae from Stewart Island, unloaded in Bluff.
John Hawkins/Stuff

Farmed Oysters infected with Bomamaia ostreae from Stewart Island, unloaded in Bluff.


Here are two words to put the frights up a hardy southern man or woman: Bonamia ostreae.

In plain English, this is the parasite that could decimate Southland's Bluff oyster stocks, and it's the main concern locals are coming to me with.

"My whanau have fished Bluff oysters for generations," one fisher told me last month, shaking his head at the news the parasite was found on two oyster farms in Stewart Island.

"It's like a shadow hanging over our livelihoods, our region and our economy."

This is the danger with bonamia ostreae, the actions marine farmers and officials can take to prevent the parasite spreading - culling and containment – are sometimes imperfect.

We know from bitter experience that the parasite can travel, making its way from Marlborough and Nelson in 2015 to parts of Stewart Island today, even though containment efforts and some culling efforts were undertaken at the time.

To the Ministry for Primary Industries credit, they are taking extensive steps to ensure the parasite cannot make its way to the Foveaux Strait.

But locals are still coming to me and asking whether, after failing to contain the outbreak in Marlborough and Nelson, we can trust officials to contain the outbreak this time. After all, between 2015 and 2017 funding for fisheries and aquaculture monitoring took a cut of approximately a million dollars.

But perhaps these questions are for another time. At the moment everyone's energy is focussed on containing the parasite.

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"If the Ministry for Primary Industries is at fault you know we'll give them a bollocking," a relation told me after a public meeting in Bluff. "But at the moment we're just worrying about what's going to happen tomorrow.

Bluff oysters are chiefly kai to Awarua Rūnanga. What happens if the fisheries is wiped out?

It's a frightening question for locals, but it's also a question for the country. If Bluff oysters take a hit, the national economy takes a hit as well. Bluff oysters are one of the few remaining wild oyster stocks in the world and worth millions to the local and national economy, not to mention what they're worth to Awarua Rūnanga. Everyone loves a Bluff oyster.

The last thing any Southlander wants to see is a repeat of the 1986 and 1987 seasons when a related bonamia outbreak struck, turning oysters watery and black. Bonamia struck again in 1991 closing the season until 1994 when stocks recovered.

It only takes one mistake for the parasite to spread.

That mistake has happened with the spread from Marlborough and Nelson to Stewart Island. Let's hope that another mistake doesn't see it spread any further.

Mauri ora!

Rino Tirikatene MP for Te Tai Tonga

 - Stuff


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