Farmers want answers to parasite problem
Angry oyster farmers caught in a biosecurity scare are demanding to know how a deadly parasite escaped quarantine in Marlborough.
The discovery of the parasite Bonamia ostreae on Stewart Island last month prompted a mass removal of farms, threatening the Bluff oyster industry.
The spread of infection has been considered a serious threat to flat oysters, also known as Bluff oysters, since it was found in the Marlborough and Nelson areas in 2015.
Ministry for Primary Industries staff faced a tense community meeting in Bluff last Wednesday, with residents saying the ministry should have dealt with the parasite two years ago when it was first discovered.
Ministry readiness and response manager Geoff Gwyn told the meeting when Bonamia was first discovered, the ministry felt the controlled area notice, permitting process and testing regime put in place were sufficient to manage the risk. ’’I still have some confidence that wasn’t a bad call.’’
The ministry started to remove more than 4000 tonnes of the sought-after shellfish from Stewart Island last Monday.
The oysters were uplifted by crane, then securely transported by boat and trucked to a landfill in Bluff.
The removal was hoped to prevent the spread of infection across Foveaux Strait and into the wild oyster population.
A similar removal notice had been issued for 10 Marlborough farms and was still being worked out between the ministry and farmers.
A ministry spokesman said it remained unknown how many oysters needed to be removed from farms in Marlborough. The farms were based in Port Underwood and Oyster Bay in Tory Channel.
Kono chief executive Rachel Taulelei said their team was working with the ministry on how Marlborough marine farms would be impacted by the discovery of the parasite at Stewart Island.
‘‘[The ministry’s] focus currently is on the Stewart Island marine farms where the risk to the wild oyster population in Foveaux Strait is the greatest,’’ she said.
The ministry met with Marlborough oyster farmers to discuss the removal notice two weeks ago.
The meeting included discussion on the potential for compensation and the science behind the decision, the ministry spokesman said.
Greenshell mussels and rock oysters were not affected by Bonamia ostreae, but could carry and transmit it to flat oysters.
There was no food safety issue from eating oysters with the parasite, the spokesman said.
Flat oysters, also known as Bluff oysters, will be removed from the Sounds as a precautionary measure against the spread of the parasite Bonamia ostreae.