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Growing oysters on land: an innovative approach to help the Sydney rock oyster industry


Brigid Veale
15 July 2015
Sydney rock oysters will be grown on land for up to three weeks at a time as Southern Cross University’s National Marine Science Centre investigates innovative ways to lessen the impact of significant rainfall events which can close some NSW estuaries for much of the year.

The National Marine Science Centre, with its first-class seawater reticulation system, will conduct the research in close collaboration with local oyster farmers and drawing on the expertise of researchers from the NSW Department of Primary Industry’s Port Stephens Fisheries Institute oyster team.

The research project was announced today at Southern Cross University’s National Marine Science Centre (NMSC) in Coffs Harbour.

“The oysters will be held in a controlled environment on land for up to three weeks where they can be isolated from poor quality river water, and can therefore be harvested independent of weather conditions,” said Dr Ken Cowden, NMSC aquaculture operations manager.

“This will provide surety of supply to buyers and a greater turnover for farmers which in turn will significantly enhance the viability and sustainability of the Sydney rock oyster Industry.”

Oyster farming is NSW’s largest aquaculture industry, generating upwards of $30 million per annum and employing more than 1500 people.

Frustrated by disruptions from frequent heavy rain causing estuary closures, Mid North Coast oyster industry representative Joe Pearce approached both the NMSC and DPI earlier this year.

“By way of example, rainfall events resulted in a closure of 270 days in the Bellinger River last year. This is having a major impact on oyster marketing and ultimately returns on investment for oyster farmers. This issue is confronting growers across NSW and other states. Shifts in climate patterns may further exacerbate this problem,” Mr Pearce said.

“The successful outcome of this industry initiative, working in conjunction with the NMSC and NSW Fisheries, will be pivotal to the development of a strategic plan and vision for the ailing Sydney rock oyster industry. The concept once developed, will provide a platform for industry sustainability, investment and growth through the supply of a consistently available, high-quality product for an extended period of the year.”

The research at the NMSC involves a pilot, land-based oyster basket tank which will assess various conditions in order to develop larger trials involving collaborating farms.

“Foremost of the research is finding a food which is easy and economical to use, and which will not alter the flavour of the oysters. The additional costs which this system will impose are expected to be more than offset by greater flexibility and opportunity in marketing, and potentially in labour savings,” said Dr Cowden.

The research has the support of the federal Member for Cowper, Luke Hartsuyker.

“The project holds great promise, and is an excellent example of productive collaboration between Southern Cross University, state government and industry,” Mr Hartsuyker said.

Professor Les Christidis, director of the National Marine Science Centre, said the project was an example of the innovative research conducted at Southern Cross University that was not only regionally relevant but of significance across Australia and the globe.

“We have incorporated the project into our teaching program which will be producing the next generation of aquaculture managers,” said Professor Christidis.

Photo: Dr Ken Cowden at the National Marine Science Centre.