THE operation to cull thousands of tonnes of farmed oysters in Big Glory bay, Stewart Island, is now under way in a bid to prevent a lethal parasite spreading to the wild Bluff oyster population.
The operation began on Monday to remove the oyster stock from a farm operated by Sanford in a joint venture with a company called Tio. One hundred and twenty cages, each containing about 40kg to 60kg of oysters, were lifted on day one of the operation.
“It’s gutting for Tio and Sanford farmers to see the oysters and their hard work having to be pulled out of the water like that, but it is something that just has to be done, and we’re concentrating on doing it in exactly the way the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has directed to minimise any risks to the wild oyster fishery, where Sanford is the second
largest quota holder,” Sanford corporate communications general manager Fiona MacMillan said.
The first day of the removal process had gone well and staff would continue to refine it in consultation with MPI to find ways to speed it up, she said.
MPI field headquarters manager for the operation Andrew Sander said there had been some “teething troubles” on day one, but he was “very pleased” with how the removal work
had begun in “perfect” conditions at Big Glory Bay.
Sanford was one of two Stewart Island farms where MPI found the parasite Bonamia ostreae last month. It was the first time it had been found outside the Marlborough Sounds and Nelson areas since it was first detected in 2015. It is fatal to flat oysters, but is not harmful to humans.
Mr Sander said he was “absolutely” satisfied with the timeframe in which action had been taken to prevent the parasite’s spread.
MPI staff had been on the ground on Stewart Island since day one, he said, and there were many parties involved who needed to be consulted with before a decision could be made.
“We have been pretty quick on this. We want this right the first time.”
The action to remove all farmed oysters from Stewart Island would not give 100% certainty the risk of the parasite spreading would be eliminated, but it would reduce the risk, he
Oyster parasite on hit list
BLUFF Oyster Management Company operations manager Graeme Wright said he was satisfied with the speed of the intervention.
“There were huge decisions to be made at that time. While you want it to be as quick as you can, the right decision has been made now and we want to support them to get it done.”
Stewart Island-Rakiura Community Board chairman Jon Spraggon said the decision could have been made faster.
“It is probably not moving fast enough. Bureaucracy doesn’t move fast.”
The effect on the community was going to be “substantial”, but the community was on board with MPI’s decision, he said.
“We have to be. It is a crud and we have to do something to prevent it spreading further.”
The caged oysters are being uplifted by crane, then securely transported to a landfill site near Invercargill to be buried under lime and dirt.
Mr Sander said the vessels transporting the oysters from Stewart Island to Bluff were travelling over some of the wild oyster beds in Foveaux Strait, which was unavoidable, but the route had been deemed the most acceptable by all parties involved, including iwi, he said.
The oysters are disinfected and wrapped to prevent contamination and the vessels transporting them were disinfected and cleaned prior to leaving the bay.
After a few runs this week, staff would have a better idea of how long the process would take to complete, he said.
MPI staff conducted public meetings in Stewart Island and Bluff this week to inform the communities about the plan. Staff also met the affected farmers on Monday to discuss the compensation process.
Mr Sander said an investigation was under way into how the parasite was introduced to the Stewart Island oyster farms. As it was an ongoing investigation, he declined to comment further.
Bluff oyster fishermen and locals were invited to a meeting with Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) staff, more about it read here.