Merimbula oyster growers condemn Department of Primary Industries' lake netting proposals

Oyster leases in Merimbula's Top Lake.
Oyster leases in Merimbula's Top Lake.

Long-term oyster farmer, Chris Boyton, of Aquaculture Enterprises, Merimbula has added his voice to the growing dissent over proposed changes by the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) that would see mesh netting in Merimbula’s Top Lake.

Mr Boyton is a Merimbula oyster farmer with over 30 years’ experience during which time there has been no commercial netting. He said: “I question the rationale behind the NSW DPI’s proposal to reintroduce such practices in a small waterway of high ecological importance. We have been told repeatedly that the lake hold the most extensive sea grass beds south of Sussex Inlet, the most species diversity south of Sydney and is a very valuable nursery for a number of commercially important oceanic fish species. Any proposals to increase fishing pressures on fish stocks and the ecological impacts such fishing creates would I think at least require an independent scientific study to establish base line data and identify any potential environmental threats posed by commercial netting.”

He is concerned that splash netting techniques, proposed by the DPI, could “seriously damage the sea grass beds and interfere with commercial oyster farming infrastructure”.

Mr Boyton said: “Such disturbance could cause considerable damage to our stock and more importantly release silt carrying vibro that will be taken up by the oysters feeding in the disturbed waters.”

Brett Weingarth, of Love our Lakes and Sapphire Coast Wilderness Oysters has also spoken out against the proposals. He said: “I would be opposed to this in all its manifestations. We’re trying to promote this area as a safe place for juvenile fish stocks. To bring commercial nets into that environment is just ludicrous.”

Oyster farmers have with the encouragement of DPI and Catchment Management Authorities developed cultivation techniques that minimise the physical impact infrastructure has on the sea grass beds. It was the sea grass beds that were also the cause of much discussion and consideration when the new jetty at Merimbula was being designed. As Mr Boyton pointed out: “All this effort would be neutralised if commercial fishers are able to work over the shallow sea grass beds disturbing what is a recovering habitat.”

Oyster farmers also have security concerns. The proposal is for netting to take place during the hours of darkness, a time when oyster farmers are not permitted on to the leases for security reasons. Mr Boyton said: “What guarantee do we have that either the licensed fishermen or others taking advantage of this permission to be on and in our leases during the hours of darkness, will not be stealing our oysters.”

He said that the  physical nature of the Merimbula Lake where there are large areas of shallow weed beds bisected by a deep channel results in fish being  concentrated in this narrow channel at low tide making them a very easy target for netting. “Combine this with the high concentration of schooling bream and blackfish that occurs during the winter months and these schools could be decimated in the first months of any introduction of commercial netting resulting in the removal of one of the main attractions to recreational fishers during the winter months.

“From my reading of the proposal the increase in netting appears to be an ad-hoc economics driven proposal with no science to support the increase in fishing pressure,” Mr Boyton said.