NSW Oyster farmers are calling on state agricultural minister Tara Moriarty to "step up" and hand industry a lifeline as decades-old QX Disease ramps up its ability to block any step forward.
A 20-year-old DPI breeding program to develop QX-resistant families of Sydney Rock Oysters showed its failure during the devastating 2022 flood events while a pivot towards exotic Pacific variety oysters is proving problematic with a "significant mortality event" in Port Stephens early this year.
The only variety that seems to take the virus in its stride is a wild strain of Sydney Rock from the Richmond River at Ballina. A small introduced population in the Karuah River has survived when all others have perished and now oyster growers are calling on government to support further breeding of spat to meet demand.
"We need the private sector to expand in this space and we need government to pull up the slack," said grower and NSW Farmers representative Matt Burgoyne, Lemon Tree Passage.
"All oyster farmers in Port Stephens are now scrambling to find how to move forward."
"While we have had flood relief there is no support for a biosecurity package. We would like to put the new minister in the picture. We have requested to meet with her but that has not been forthcoming."
Mr Burgoyne said mortality of supposed QX resistant family groups developed by the world-class breeding facility at Nelson Bay gave growers zero confidence that they will be able to harvest a crop when their spat matures in three years' time.
"They might die next season," Mr Burgoyne points out. "Then we will have no income for four years."
Meanwhile invoices from government are landing in growers' inboxes with fees to be paid to Food Safe NSW, Crown Lands department and DPI leases.
"We are asking for those fees to be waived," said Mr Burgoyne who also pointed out that growers carried liability to clean up their leased waterways should they exit the industry.
"We are now farming water that is not fit to do so anymore but why should responsibility for clean-up come back on the tenant? That is a conversation we want to have with the minister."
"If the NSW government allows the largest producer to fall over without a fight - that would be despicable,"Mr Burgoyne said.
Prawn virus closes estuary fishery
On the Clarence River a market for wild-caught prawns in the Clarence River will remain off limits to fishers for the next two years after introduced white spot virus was detected in three prawn farms earlier this year. As their water is drawn from the river wild-caught prawns are caught in the net, so to speak, despite the virus not being found outside enclosed farms.
The control order specifically banning the movement of raw prawns out of the river. Most of the catch is sold "green" as bait. Ironically the disease came into Australia from Asia in green prawns meant for consumption (the disease does not affect humans) that were actually used uncooked as bait.
The problem was first discovered in Moreton Bay in 2016 and has since spread south although the NSW strain is different from the original outbreak.
NSW Government announced in June a $21.4m rescue package to support ongoing surveillance and clean up with support for prawn fishers and farmers, including a dedicated mental health program.