Floodwaters have devastated the New South Wales oyster industry just days before the usually lucrative Easter break.
- Floods have battered the New South Wales coast leaving oyster leases damaged by debris
- The industry has been left reeling after successive setbacks including 2020 bushfires
- Now a lot of mature stock has been lost just days before the busy Easter period
Oyster leases in waterways along the coast have been damaged during the deluge.
“We’ve had shipping containers, cows, fridges, you name it, just come down river systems and destroy oyster leases,” said Andy Myers, a New South Wales Oyster Industry extension officer.
“At one point we were having one metre of water running through oyster sheds which is obviously not good for forklifts, grading machines or electronics.
“There is oyster gear everywhere, there is mature stock that is just lost and this is coming after a very difficult Christmas period when lot of the oyster farming harvest areas were closed due to rain.”
‘One thing after another’
James Ford is a second-generation oyster farmer on the Nambucca River on the NSW mid-north coast.
He said the flood was the worst he had ever seen, and came after an already bleak period for the local industry.
“We’ve only had, since the start of December, 19 appropriate selling opportunities where we’ve been in an open period to sell oysters and it will be another four to six weeks before the river cleans up,” Mr Ford said.
“It seems to be one thing after another at the moment.
“Oyster farmers can’t get any insurance on their crop no matter what they want to pay out on the water, or their boats.”
Hay bales on the loose
On the state’s far south coast, oyster leases were damaged when dozens of hay bales were washed down the Pambula River.
Rebecca Hamilton, from Sapphire Coast Wilderness Oysters, said the floodwaters hit just as local operators were due to reopen after a 21-day closure due to a sewage spill.
“It’s really affected our leaseholders here, a lot of our farmers have actually lost all of their stock,” she said.
Operators on the mid-north coast have also been hit hard.
The Big Oyster retail outlet and cafe on the Hastings River at Port Macquarie was slammed by floodwaters over the weekend.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my whole entire life,” business owner Lynette Atkins said.
“It was National Prawn Day the other day and not one seafood shop in Port Macquarie could be open, it was heartbreaking.
“We’re hard workers, we’ve worked hard all our lives so this is not going to stop us and we’ll just keep going.”
Big fresh on Central Coast
On the Central Coast, Mooney Mooney oyster farmer Peter O’Sullivan said he would have a clearer idea of losses in a couple of weeks’ time.
“The amount of fresh water coming down is huge,” he said.
“There’s a lot of catchment and we’ve got a lot of water coming our way for a long period of time.
“The oysters can hold out for a while … but this one looks like it’s going to be two to three weeks.
“We’re moving everything we possibly can closer to the sea, so hopefully with the bigger tides we can get a little bit of salt water back to try and save our crop.”
Sydney Rock v Pacific
Oyster purveyor Lucy Ashley, who supplies restaurants around the NSW far north coast, said there would still be stock available over Easter, but it would likely be the Pacific variety from South Australia or Tasmania, rather than Sydney rock oysters.
“The majority of people who love oysters, most likely could not tell the difference between a rock oyster and a Pacific,” she said.