We speak to local Oyster Farmer and Vice-Chairman of the Port Macquarie Oyster Branch Rex Marks.
> Give us some background on the Port Macquarie Oyster Branch of the NSW Farmers Association.
The local oyster Industry affiliated with NSW Farmers Association in 1997, as they are a professional lobby group.
> What is your role as a Vice-Chairman in the Association?
To support the Chairperson and share the workload that comes with his role.
> The number of oysters being produced yearly are excellent for the economy of the Hastings, how are they contributing to our tourism industry? What sort of numbers are we turning out annually?
There are approximately 6.6 million oysters harvested for consumption annually, coupled with 40 million plus juvenile seed oysters which are sold to other oyster farms on other estuaries for on growing. The Hastings River is the largest seed producing estuary in the state and the fifth largest producer for human consumption. As for contribution to local tourism, the local industry is pro-active in monitoring the waterways for maintaining a quality that is equal to the world’s best practice. The Port Macquarie Hastings area can proudly boast water quality that can support a healthy oyster industry, is of a high quality and is an asset to tourism. We also run farm tours that adds to the list of tourism attractions.
> The Hastings’ primary produce sector relies heavily on local oyster cultivation, tell us about the great demand for Hastings oysters?
Oysters from the Hastings River are well-known Australia wide and attract a high demand with a premium price. Local farms supply markets with live product to areas from Perth to Cairns.
> A lot of residents in the Mid-North Coast area frequently pass the oyster farms on boating trips or when driving by the river, yet few know much about the actual processes that go into cultivating them. Can you give us a quick run down of the procedure’s that go into the farming?
The practices of cultivating oysters can best be explained by comparing it to a plant nursery. We do similar work except we do it in the water. We place catching slats in the estuary at given times of the year for the purpose of collecting juvenile oysters. These are then removed from the slats and placed into a nursery system similar to filling trays with seedlings. At the age of about twelve months, the oysters are moved into an intermediate growing system, similar to repotting, where they remain for another twelve months.
Oysters are then moved from the intermediate growing areas to conditioning areas for the final twelve months. Completing the three years required to produce an oyster large enough for market.
> Industry regulations have changed greatly over the past few years with new codes of practice being brought in regularly. Tell us how that has altered the Farmers Oyster Association.
The ever increasing burden of further regulations is causing the industries available time to be used in a reactive manor rather than the preferred proactive manor.
> There are such stringent guidelines to follow within the Food Authority Regulations, is it difficult to maintain that standard of quality in Port Macquarie’s oysters?
No! But it is very expensive. Local oyster farmers bare all the expense of the monitoring that is required to be compliant. We spend in excess of $70,000 annually. The majority of this expense is spent on monitoring for other people’s pollution that can trespass onto our farms.
> What procedures are in place for oyster depuration?
There are 15 depuration plants attached to the Hastings River, which are audited twice a year. The depuration process involves placing oysters into a controlled sterile environment for a minimum of 36 hours prior to sale. End product testing is undertaken at regular intervals, which enables us to ensure the purity of the product at the farm gate.
> What do the fortnightly water purification tests involve to ensure top notch oysters?
We test for photoplankton and biotoyins at fortnightly intervals. We test oyster meat for E. coli levels and estuary water for faecal coliforms in line with the guidelines of the NSW Shellfish Requirements.
> The Farmers Oyster Association has a very significant role not only in keeping our waterways clean, but also our soil. Tell us what clean-up days and other events you’ve been involved in.
Our involvement in Clean-Up Australia Day has been so successful that it has set a major benchmark for the rest of the industry. A huge plus for the community is that the oyster industry has the equipment for easy salvage of discarded materials. The local oyster industry has been at the forefront in dealing with pollution issues such as acid sulphate soils. Bad management of these soils has a long term detrimental effect on land and estuary eco-systems.
Other events that we are involved in include industry displays on the open day at Douglas Vale. Our major annual event is the Wine & Oyster Fiesta at Cassegrains vineyard in January.
> Oyster farming is one of the oldest primary industries in the area, what is it about oysters that has made them so successful for so many years in our local region?
Around the 1880’s the local oyster industry was established. We have proven our sustainability by being one of the oldest surviving primary industries in the Hastings region. This is evidence that the oyster industry is in harmony with the environment. We don’t use chemicals and only farm naturally occurring shellfish.
> Thank You for your time Rex!