Secrets behind oyster farms

Wapengo Lake was the meeting place for oyster farmers from estuaries along the South Coast to gather and discuss their work. 

A large group of people from various agencies attended the Wapengo Oyster Estuary Tour on Friday, as well as oyster farmers from estuaries between Shoalhaven and Wonboyn.

They were given a tour around Wapengo Lake by boat and local farmers talked about working on the water. 

Wapengo oyster farmer Geoffrey Hutley said oysters had been farmed on the lake since the 1860s by the early European colonists and by the turn of the 20th century were being shipped from the Tathra Wharf to Sydney. 

He said there were Indigenous Australian middens around the lake he estimated to be at least a few thousand years old. 

Environmental Management System (EMS) coordinator Jillian Keating, working with Sapphire Coast Wilderness Oysters, said the net worth of Sydney rock oysters in NSW was $34million to which Wapengo contributed $800,000.  

She also talked about the EMS, a strategic planning instrument for oyster farmers to demonstrate to the community their practises’ environmental credentials. 

Some steps included replacing the stick and rail plots used to grow oysters with reusable plastic baskets, stablising banks with bundles of sticks and removing of wild Pacific oysters which are noxious pests in NSW.

What happens on the land ends up working into the lake and that affects us greatly. - Graham Major

Ms Keating said an ongoing aspect was improving catchment management as oysters were “extremely sensitive filters”. Farms could be influenced by unfenced river banks where cows had access to the water or unseald roads and tracks.   

One Wapengo farmer, Graham Major, said as they all worked on shared water whatever they did would effect each other. 

“We owe what we have here to the local landholders,” he said. 

“What happens on the land ends up working into the lake and that affects us greatly.” 

Ana Rubio, who led the Sustainable Oyster Assessment Program, spoke about her research into how oysters grew in seven different estuaries on the South Coast. 

Mr Major said in the trials Wapengo had the highest growth rates out of the estuaries. The research also showed oysters grew better in different parts of the lake in different times of the year, so he decided to move his stock between locations.  

Some farmers on Wapengo Lake have also been growing Pacific oysters.

Bert Sherlock trialled them on the lake five years ago as a back up in case his other stock got a disease.

They grow in half the time of Sydney rock oysters and he mainly sold them to Asian markets in Sydney. While Pacifics are a pest in the wild, when farmed they are sterilised so do not reproduce. 

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