Oyster farmers hurting after four disasters in 18 months

Eden-Monaro MP Kristy McBain and Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles meet with oyster farmers and representatives on Tuesday.
Eden-Monaro MP Kristy McBain and Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles meet with oyster farmers and representatives on Tuesday.

Oyster farmers say with four disasters - bushfires, flood, COVID and the recent flood - in less than 18 months, the industry is hurting, particularly the newer farmers or those with smaller leases because cashflow has been hit hard.

But with debris still expected to come down from the catchments and impact the farms, there is also a longer term compound effect from the series of disasters to hit the Sapphire Coast.

Rebecca Hamilton of Sapphire Coast Wilderness Oysters said there are concerns about the spat or juvenile oysters.

"We're looking at the complete decimation of spat," she said, something that will impact farms in three years time.

"When the flood came, debris destroyed some of the leases. During COVID and the bushfires we couldn't sell enough and so couldn't move oysters out of the water to make room for the baby spat. This is a whole of industry discussion and with the cashflow issue it's hard to purchase spat without money coming in," Ms Hamilton said.

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For two years in a row oyster farmers have missed out on their Easter trade and it's a time considered to be one of the best in a normal year.

"Some businesses do 40 per cent of their annual turnover at Easter but now we have none to sell," Ms Hamilton said.

Sue McIntyre of Broadwater Oysters said it was her first Easter off in 24 years.

"It's not what we were hoping for after last year. We had flooding up and into the shed which I'd never seen before," Ms McIntyre said.

Water quality testing is continuing along the coast and farmers will not get the all clear to sell until water quality standards improve. This might be by the middle of next week, Ms McIntyre believes.

Ms Hamilton and oyster farmers from along the coast met with member for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain and Deputy Opposition Leader and Shadow Minister for Science Richard Marles at Dominic and Pip Boyton's oyster facility and cafe at Millingandi, on Tuesday.

Ms McBain said she would be talking to Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud to advocate for costs such as regular water quality testing to be covered by the government.

"It costs $800,000 state wide. When we look at the blue economy we could be doing much more. We want to protect and grow the industry," she said.

"This is a big industry for the region and is a huge amount of our economy," Ms McBain said.

Mr Marles said it was really important that government got "money out of the door to support the industry".

Ms Hamilton said everything that had happened over the last 18 months would have an effect in three years time.

"It's not about putting our hands out but looking at support for example in terms of what can be done to open up export markets," she said.

"Dairy and beef farming is well recognised; oyster farming is big too but it doesn't have the same visibility. Just on the Sapphire Coast the value of sales alone is $15m.

"We need to make sure the industry is resilient. We're dealing with climate change and extreme weather events and we need to make sure the industry is adapting."


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