The state's agricultural minister has been told that the Hunter region's oyster industry could be less than two years away from collapse without urgent government intervention.
Minister Dugald Saunders met with some 30 Port Stephens oyster farmers during a visit to the region on June 16, hearing firsthand how QX disease has decimated crops of Sydney rock oysters and what support growers are seeking.
"We're looking at industry-specific support. Part of what I needed to hear from farmers is what specifically they want the assistance to look like," he said.
"What I'm hearing is that it's to help provide spat [oyster larvae]. A lot of people won't be able to afford to buy it. We're trying to find the most meaningful way of providing assistance."
XL Oysters managing director and NSW Farmers Port Stephens oyster branch chairman Matt Burgoyne said discussions with the minister were positive, but said there was no time to wait.
"If government doesn't step in and help guys buy stock and restock their farms soon then they will go broke," he said.
"We had 41 farms when when this started and now we're down to 30. QX was found in Karuah in August last year. In not even 12 months we've lost 10 farms.
"I would hate to think what will happen if we don't have support through this. We are not looking for a hand out. We are farmers that have had very successful and profitable businesses but this is a crisis. This is a natural disaster that has just come through and blindsided us."
The NSW oyster industry is worth $52 million, of which Port Stephens accounts for at least $8.5 million.
Mr Burgoyne said Port Stephens produced about 16 per cent of the state's oysters and there were "huge ramifications" for the NSW industry if they can't get support.
QX kills Sydney rock oysters, which is the primary oyster grown in Port Stephens. While not harmful to humans, the parasite affects the quality of the oyster and makes it unsellable.
In some areas, 100 per cent of the oysters - from juveniles through to mature oysters - have been lost to QX.
This means farmers will have no crops, or income, for about two and a half years, which is the time it takes to grow a mature Sydney rock oyster.
Mr Burgoyne said farmers were now looking at growing Pacific oysters, but the loss of income due to QX has meant "farmers don't have the money to buy that stock".
"That's where we're hoping the government can help us," he said.
In addition to the possibility of helping farmers buy spat to begin growing new crops, Mr Saunders said he was waiting to hear if the government will remove lease fees.
"Some said that wouldn't be too much help, but for some people it's substantial," he said. "Hopefully that's not far away."
Port Stephens MP Kate Washington joined Minister Saunders and oyster farmers during their meeting last week.
She said she hoped the minister's visit would lead to direct government support.
"At the moment, local oyster farmers only have access to general flood recovery grants, which they would have been eligible for even without the QX outbreak," she said.
"This is a dire situation, so there needs to be a tailored package of support from the government.
"I have met with oyster farmers from across Port Stephens, and I've seen firsthand the devastation they are experiencing. Timing is critical for the industry. Without any stock to sell, they are fighting to survive and many local jobs are on the line."
The Port Stephens oyster industry is thought to have began in 1885 when a number of growers were successful in obtaining oyster leases.
By the 1940s Port Stephens had extensive areas under oyster racks.
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