WAPENGO oyster producer Shane Buckley is the first Sydney rock oyster farmer in the country to gain organic certification.
His product can now not only be stamped Australian Certified Organic, but he met the rigorous requirements for certification in record time.
Mr Buckley farms oysters in the pristine waters of Wapengo Lake and has gone to great effort to make his practises as environmentally friendly as possible.
“In the beginning I was just trying to make my practises as environmentally friendly and sustainable as possible, for the taste and the future of the crop, but it wasn’t with organic certification in mind,” he said.
Mr Buckley has completely changed the way oysters are farmed on Wapengo Lake since purchasing his farm six years ago.
“The old way was treated pine trays that were fixed into position, and tarred sticks, all things that I believe compromises water quality,” he said.
“The infrastructure has been completely overhauled and system is now based on dynamic cultivation.
“The structures have changed from being fixed to floating and the trays are made from 100 per cent recyclable material.”
Mr Buckley said the older-style fixed trays blocked sunlight from reaching the lake floor and killed seagrass.
“Now the seagrass is regenerating, it’s improving the quality of the water, improving aquatic life in the lake,” he said.
With all of his sustainable practices in place, helped along by a grant from the Southern Rivers Catchment Management Authority through the Federal Government, Mr Buckley considered acknowledging his farm’s methods.
“I thought, well, I’ve put all this infrastructure in place, why not try for organic certification?” he said.
“Some people from Australian Certified Organic came and looked at the farm and basically just went, ‘Wow, what you’re doing here is fantastic.’
“It’s normally a three-year process to get certification, but because of the nature of oyster farming and because of all the sustainable measures I’d already put into place it only took 12 months.
“I was prepared for the long haul, so I’m pretty stoked that it came through so quickly.”
Mr Buckley, who supplies to high-end restaurants in Sydney and Melbourne, would have kept it between himself and his customers, but restaurateurs had other ideas.
“Restaurants have wanted to spruik this certification for me,” he said.
“The exposure is a little daunting, but it’s all good.”
Bermagui restaurant Il Passaggio broadcast the news on its Facebook page, congratulating him and noting that diners could try his delicious crop at their eatery.
“The restaurants I supply to love the news of becoming officially organic,” he said.
“I supply directly to them, there is no middle man, so I know my product is going and they know exactly what they are getting.”
Winning awards, including five silver medals at the Sydney Royal Fine Food Show and first place at the Bega Show this year, have also put him on many foodies’ radars.
Mr Buckley said getting the Australian Certified Organic label will be beneficial for exporting, something he’s keen to investigate “in the future”.
He recently expanded his holdings to 12 hectares and wants to bring his new aquatic acreage up to same accredited standard as his existing oyster trays before he looks to markets further afield.
“It’s been hard work, but I think in another 12 months everything will be dandy,” he said.