Back to business for resilient oyster industry

THE commercial oyster industry on the Eyre Peninsula breathed a sigh of relief last week when Primary Industries and Regions SA announced the whole of South Australia’s oyster industry was free of POMS (Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome).

The local oyster industry has taken hit after hit since POMS was detected in Tasmania in 2016.

While it was that outbreak which crippled the local industry with no spat allowed in from the state where local growers typically purchased about 80 per cent of their spat – it was the outbreak of the disease in feral oysters in the Port River at the beginning of March which put the industry on edge. 

Local growers and the wider industry have had to face and overcome spat shortages, restrictions on the movement of pacific oysters and lots of uncertainty in the last two years.

According to South Australian Oyster Growers Association chief executive officer Trudy McGowan, PIRSA’s quick response to the Port River outbreak played a big part in putting growers minds at ease.

The state government has also tried to lessen the financial burden on growers by putting a hold oyster lease fees for growers.

While there is no questioning POMS has been devastating to the industry, both here and interstate, the silver lining is that the Eyre Peninsula will come out of it with more security than ever before.

Two years on and Eyre Peninsula has two new hatcheries – one based at Cowell – to supply growers with pacific oyster spat.

Eyre Shellfish hatchery at Cowell also has enormous potential for growth.

Once the the backlog of spat for local growers has been filled there is no reason why the state-of-the-art facility could not sell spat interstate, to become a net exporter of juvenile oysters.

The development of the hatchery also lessened the impact of the Port River outbreak on Cowell growers as they were still able to move local spat from the hatchery onto Cowell leases.

However, there is the potential for POMS to find its way into the industry in the future so perhaps developing a POMS resistant oyster is the key.

One thing is for sure, the (supposed) oncoming cooler weather and water temperatures will give growers and the industry a much needed breather to work out where to from here.