Stewart Island oyster farmers 'don't know what the future holds' as cull of diseased stock begins

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Stewart Island oyster farmers say they don't know what the future holds as a huge operation to cull an estimated 4000 tonnes of oysters to try to stop the spread of a lethal parasite begins.

The oyster industry in the far south is desperate to know how a potentially devastating parasite ended up in their waters.
Source: 1 NEWS

Caged oysters started being uplifted from Big Glory Bay as the Ministry for Primary Industries attempts to minimise the harm of the bonamia ostreae parasite found there last month.

It's not know how long it'll take to remove the oysters from Stewart Island and transport them to Bluff for disposal.

Stewart Island oyster farmers met with MPI officials in Bluff to discuss a future that is far from certain.

"It's like we hit a brick wall, an immediate stop. And we don't know what the future holds. We just have to get through these first steps. We're quite concerned for our staff," said Dee Clark, an oyster farmer.

And there are strong murmurs of discontent that Marlborough oyster stocks remained in the water following the 2015 discovery of bonamia ostreae.

"I think everyone will be looking at that initial response in Marlborough and saying, 'well hold on, why did it take until this happened in Bluff or Stewart Island to actually do that?'" said Jeff Walker, an oyster farm owner.

Somebody's brought it here. And that person or persons won't be feeling too well now "
Jeff Walker, oyster farm owner

An MPI investigation is underway to try and pinpoint how the parasite ended up in Big Glory Bay.

"For us it's happened by human intervention - somebody's brought it here. And that person or persons won't be feeling too well now because they've probably only realised now the scale of disruption that they've caused," Mr Walker said.

At this stage the exact amount of oysters to be removed is unknown, but MPI estimates the final figure will be upwards of 4000 tonnes.

The removal involves disinfecting the oysters, and the machinery and vessels handling them, along every step of the way, which eventually sees them dumped at an Invercargill landfill, a job that will take weeks if not months.

MPI operational manager Andrew Sander says the ministry is taking the parasite very seriously as the oyster is "not only a national product that we're selling, it's the livelihoods of Bluff and Stewart Island people".

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