With our local oyster season almost upon us, I thought I’d share a couple of oyster related stories with you. Oysters were once a very big industry right here on our doorstep in Moreton Bay.
Below, is an historical perspective an excerpt from a newspaper in 1906. Beneath that, an update on the industry today including an interview I did with a local oyster farmer whose oysters you may very well be enjoying in the coming months.
“Oyster growing is one of Queensland’s natural industries, and in Moreton Bay it has assumed considerable proportions. Last year sufficient oysters were shipped to Sydney and Melbourne to provide those cities with over a million and half plates of oysters on the shell, or stewed or served in the various ways which the ingenuity of the cook has devised to tempt appetites. That was in excess of the oysters consumed in this State, which would bring the total up to about 2,000.000 dozen, and reckoned at 6d. per plate, the value retail would be €50,000. The export figures show that 14.000 bags were shipped beyond Queensland and their value put on board the steamers would aggregate at around 20,000 pounds. That is the price, wholesale, which the southerners sent up here for oysters.
Out of those 14,000 bags, 3200 were exported from Maryborough and the rest from Moreton Bay. ‘’ The Queenslander, September 8 1906
OVER 2000 hectares of oyster beds once stretched along the Southern Queensland sea banks from Southport to Caloundra. Today the boom time of the late 19th and early 20th centuries when Queensland was a major player in the oyster industry are a memory. Mismanagement and a parasite called QX decimated the industry and by the 1950s it was in severe decline.
Today there are just 450 hectares of leases and a handful of oyster farmers who are struggling to resurrect an industry that could potentially be worth billions.
‘’Other than getting a bill, we don’t exist as far as the government is concerned,’’ says
Stradbroke Oyster Growers’ Association president Greg Nankervis. “We don’t get any funding or any help at grass roots level. In New South Wales the fisheries department is really proactive and gets behind the growers and have helped turn it into a billion dollar industry. We’re still small but we could do the same if people were given incentive to get back into the industry. ‘’
Mr Nankervis owns a lease of 3.3 hectares between Peel island and Stradbroke at the south end of the bay on which he cultivates Sydney Rock Oysters. Like other local oyster growers, he’s preparing for harvest, watching their size and keeping an eye on the phases of the moon. “It’s around three days before the full moon that we harvest, just before they spawn, when the oysters are at their fullest and creamiest.’’
The Sydney Rock oysters are native to Moreton Bay; centuries ago Mr Nankervis says, they were known as Brisbane Rock Oysters before they were taken south. Farming methods remain almost unchanged-no chemicals or feeds are used and it’s considered a good low impact aquaculture industry by watchdog organsiations such as the Australian Marine Conservation Society.
Oyster farmers either use sticks or a long a long line system- where baskets are hung from pipes which can be lowered or made higher to for the oyster to retrieve the natural nutrients from the sea water which fattens them.
“We have pristine water coming in off the ocean, so unlike some oysters grown in estuaries, there’s no need to purge them- they can go straight out to restaurants, fresher than ‘’ Mr Nankervis said. “We have some really good growing areas here, and could potentially grow much more.’’