Oyster fans rejoice: It’s that time again

    Oystermen Ricki Gillian (left) and John Edminstin were out in Mr Edminstin’s boat Polaris dredging for the first catch of Foveaux Strait oysters for the season on Tuesday. The team of five left South Port at 4am and returned at lunchtime with 35 bins filled with oysters.

    OYSTER fans can celebrate because the Bluff oyster season is officially under way.

    Boats hit Foveaux Strait on Tuesday and oyster openers were ready to shuck as many of the delicacies as possible in factories across the region.

    Barnes Wild Bluff Oysters manager Graeme Wright said it was still too early to predict how the season would play out.

    However, the weather was looking fine for the week and preliminary testing at the wild oyster fishery showed no signs of the parasite, Bonamia ostreae.

    ‘‘Wild fishery is challenging because we need to relay in a range of factors. It is still early to say anything — we are cautiously optimistic for the season.’’

    He believed the challenge for this season would be the Omicron outbreak which created concern about supply around the country.

    ‘‘Our difficulties are really around managing staff and relying on couriers during this outbreak — you know. This will definitely be the biggest challenge.’’

    He said there was strong demand in the south for the delicacies, but the company still relied heavily on the North Island market.

    About 35% of the supply was destined for Otago-Southland with the rest being sent to other regions of New Zealand.

    ‘‘If we have a supply problem, we will not be able to process the oysters and this is the major concern as we need those markets for a successful operation.’’

    About 10 boats hit the sea to dredge for the first batch this week.

    Oysterman John Edminstin and his Polaris crew were the first to return to the shore with the delicacies.

    The 72-year-old Bluff man and his team of five left South Port at 4am for the first catch and returned at lunchtime with 35 bins filled with oysters.

    ‘‘It is great to be back on the sea for the oyster season but it is also tiring as I’ve been doing that for 50 years.

    ‘‘It still too early to say how the season will go, but the reality is that any skipper wants a better season than the year before. There is no change there.’’

    Even with the first oysters arriving in the factory on Tuesday, Mr Wright decided to only open his popular oyster shop in Invercargill yesterday.

    He expected more than 1000 dozen to be sold on the first day.

    The total allowable commercial catch for Foveaux Strait was set at 14.95 million oysters, but as a conservative approach during recent years, the industry had been shelving — a process where the industry agreed to catch a lower limit, he said.

    ‘‘We will start with 7.5 million oysters and then after a month, we will revise the harvest limit.’’

    The season ends on August 31.