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December 15, 2022

As many NSW farmers pick up the pieces after devastating floods, the state’s seafood industry is enjoying a break in the weather and working hard to get it’s produce on the Christmas menu before another downpour.

Key points:

  • Floods and heavy seas have made 2022 a nightmare for many seafood producers in NSW
  • It’s hoped a good Christmas will make up for a year that has seen rivers closed and trawlers unable to go to sea
  • Oyster growers in Port Macquarie have been given the all clear to harvest after closures on the Hastings River for most of the year

Oyster farmers on the Hastings River in Port Macquarie have endured a long closure, with their estuary closed for almost a year due to floods and heavy rain.

Too much freshwater lowers salinity levels, which makes it harder for oysters to grow and multiply.

Heavy rainfall can also cause sewerage overflows, making contamination an issue.

Grower Paul Wilson said the latest 21-day mandatory shutdown as a result of a sewerage overflow was lifted in mid-November.

“We’ve missed out the last two years for Christmas,” he said.

Oyster farmer paul wilson on his boat, preparing equipment

Paul Wilson says late rain meant they missed out on the last two Christmases. (ABC Mid North Coast: Luisa Rubbo)

“We were shutdown with the floods earlier this year and then the oysters went off, so weren’t sellable.

“They’re just starting to fatten up now and looking like we’ll have some really fat, plump oysters for Christmas.”

Oyster growers around the state have suffered losses over two years thanks to wet weather, but Mr Wilson hopes the prices will “stay within reason so everyone can enjoy oysters this year”.

Worker on the oyster farm unloading bucket of oysters into grader

Oyster growers on the Hastings River are hoping for a good Christmas after a tough year.(ABC Mid North Coast: Luisa Rubbo)

“Apart from the mortality we’ve had, which has been consistent … we’ve also had lack of growth because oysters can’t grow in freshwater,” he said.

It takes three years to grow a crop and the heaviest losses have been in their baby stock, he said.

“We lost 70 per cent of that — we just basically threw it away,” Mr Wilson said.

“[It] just didn’t get a chance to grow and it was too small for survive in the freshwater.”

Oyster grader inside

Sydney rock oysters take three years to grow to full size.(ABC Mid North Coast: Luisa Rubbo)

Plenty of seafood for Christmas day

Professional Fishers Association chief executive Tricia Beattie said there would be lots of seafood for everyone to enjoy this Christmas, after a couple of tough years with the La Niña effects.

“There’s been high seas, a lot of water, it’s made it really difficult … to get out and some of the species don’t do well with rain,” she said.

“But … as in the previous Christmases, the boys always seem to manage to get out just before Christmas.”  

Tricia beattie at the coffs harbour marina

Tricia Beattie says commercial fishers have weathered three straight La Niña patterns.  (ABC Coffs Coast: Nick Parmeter)

Ms Beattie said with floods affecting other parts of the state it was now northern NSW’s turn to pitch in.

“Speaking to the prawn trawler boys … they’re all going to making sure that there’s prawns available,” she said.

“We’re always out there, always making sure that there will be fresh, lovely local NSW seafood available.”

Rains a good omen for prawns

Coffs Harbour Co-op seafood operations manager Andrew Brown agreed there would be plenty to go around.

Andrew brown with a trolley loaded with fish in ice

Andrew Brown says wet weather will bring an abundance of prawns for the state. (ABC Coffs Coast: Nick Parmeter)

While too much rain is problematic for oyster growers, it can boost prawn numbers.

“The rains help flush the rivers and prawns are out so, fingers crossed the weather stays fine for Christmas,” he said.

“The rain clears your estuaries out … we’ve had a couple of years of reasonably good rain.”

But still there’s a fine between just enough and too much.

“If the boats can get to sea, we’ll be fine,” Mr Brown said.

Oyster punt on the hastings river

The latest 21-day mandatory shutdown due to a sewerage overflow was lifted mid November. (ABC Mid North Coast: Luisa Rubbo)

Oyster growers are just hoping there isn’t another heavy downpour.

“Thirty millimetres, even overnight, would be a problem, because the groundwater is so high now it doesn’t take much for the rivers to up and flow harder, or even for our local sewerage treatment plants — they’re overloaded now,” Mr Wilson said.

Worker moving oyster slats

A number of oyster growers on the Hastings River provide juvenile oysters to farmers elswhere.(ABC Mid North Coast: Luisa Rubbo)

“We haven’t had a flood for a while [and I] hope that we don’t get another flood before before Christmas,” Mr Brown said.

“The news keeps threatening we’re going to get one but so far we’ve been pretty lucky.”

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