Oyster farming is the oldest and most valuable aquaculture industry in the country and is worth $59 million at the farm gate with an output to the NSW economy of over $220 million every year. Oysters were a valuable food source for pre-colonial indigenous people with oyster middens in the Sydney area being carbon dated to 10,000BC. European settlers were farming the shellfish as early as 1870 but even before that, oysters were critical as a source of lime for cement production, not to mention as food.
Oysters are a superfood!
An incredibly healthy seafood, oysters contain minerals, zinc, selenium, magnesium, calcium and iron and vitamins A, B1, B2 and C. Considered a superfood due to their protein and omega-3 content, they are also low in cholesterol. In Australia there are two main types of oysters – Sydney Rock Oysters which are endemic to the east coast of Australia and Pacific Oysters which were introduced from Japan in the 1940s. Sydney Rock Oysters take three to four years to grow to market size whereas Pacific Oysters can be market ready within 18 months. There is also a third oyster, endemic to southern Australia, the Angasi Oyster, a native mud variety that is quite rare.
Considered the canary of water estuaries because they survive by filtering up to five litres of water every hour and are sensitive to changes in the waterways, oysters and their farmers have had a difficult time over the past ten years, particularly here in our own Port Stephens area.
What is POMS and QX?
In 2014, the local stock of Pacific Oysters was wiped out due to Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome (POMS) and the local farmers began to concentrate on Sydney Rock Oysters. At the time, it was a devastating turn of events that decimated the local industry, but the Sydney Rock Oysters were not affected by POMS and for a time, thrived. In recent years however, flooding and back-to-back rain events affected the water quality and salinity and again caused considerable damage to local stocks. Then, as we reported last month, the QX disease has raged through what was left of the local industry causing 90% mortality since February this year.
QX is a parasite that causes the oyster to starve to death. It is not harmful to humans but affects the quality of the oyster and shortens its lifespan. Local farmers are facing dire circumstances. In an effort to help, Tasmanian growers are sending millions of Pacific Oyster spat (baby oysters) to Port Stephens and the Hawkesbury to help them restock. Ironically, Pacific Oysters are immune to QX. It will take a good 12 months before local stocks will be ready for market. The diversification of the local industry is vital for its survival.
We source locally
Here at Dawson's we’ve had to begin sourcing our oysters from slightly further afield although we like to remain as local as we can, especially with oysters because they can sometimes not travel well. Our oysters at the moment are coming from the Sapphire Coast, the Clyde River and the Wagonga Inlet and are primarily Sydney Rock Oysters. Oysters develop flavours that are created by the conditions and waterways of where they’re farmed, the same way that a good wine has characteristics of the climate and soil on which the grapes are grown. The unique flavour that reflects the environment in which the oyster grew is known as ‘merroir’.
The South Coast Sydney Rock Oysters are full of complex flavours with a lingering sweetness and are fat and delicious at the moment.
Over the years, we have developed very close relationships with our local suppliers, and we wish them all the best in their recovery efforts. We’ll be there to supply local as soon as the stock is available. Read more about the history of Dawson's here.