Hawkesbury River Oyster Industry

About this Item
SubjectsFishing; Rivers and Lakes; Animal Diseases; QX Virus
SpeakersHopwood Mrs Judy
BusinessPrivate Members Statements

Page: 15812

    Mrs JUDY HOPWOOD (Hornsby) [5.05 p.m.]: A tragedy of unimaginable proportions has unfolded in the Hawkesbury River oyster industry as a result of the demise of Sydney rock oyster farming as we have come to know it. The QX parasite has attacked the Hawkesbury River oysters. The name of the disease is derived from the first recorded outbreak, which occurred in Queensland, and relates to the fact that its cause is unknown. QX has swept through the Hawkesbury River region and has affected 23 oyster farms. It was detected in March last year and has killed much of the river's Sydney rock oyster crop. Roger Clarke, a spokesman for the Oyster Farmers Association of New South Wales, said:

    It has absolutely finished off any commercial Oyster activity there that has been established for nearly a hundred years.

    The outbreak is an absolute tragedy. I thank Roger Clarke for his persistence in the face of an emergency. I place on the record my gratitude for the exceptionally hard work that many farmers have contributed to the industry which has enabled numerous people, including me, to enjoy the occasional Sydney rock oyster feast. The Hawkesbury oyster farmers differ from the classical definition of "farmer" because they do not own the place where they cultivate their crop. High lease fees apply, and when a disaster such as the QX outbreak occurs, there is not much left except sheds and vessels. To illustrate the history of the industry I will quote from a brochure entitled "Riverwatch", which is published by the Hawkesbury River Environment Protection Society Inc.:

    The Sydney rock oyster has been farmed since about 1870 but production nationally has been declining steadily in recent years: 14 million oysters were produced each year in the 1970s but only eight million were harvested in 2001. In 2004 there was an outbreak of QX disease in the lower Hawkesbury oyster lease. QX is harmless to humans but fatal for Sydney rock oysters, although the Pacific oyster is immune. The disease has now spread to all of the... leases around the estuary and its tributaries... and has brought the industry to a complete standstill...

    The outbreak is a tragedy. An article in the Hornsby and Upper North Shore Advocate dated 8 June 1988 under the headline "Chinese hooked on our oysters" states:

    [The] Secretary-General of Guangdong Province... has endorsed a proposal to export Brooklyn oysters to China...

    That article should be compared to another article that was published in the Hornsby and Upper North Shore Advocate on 14 April 2005 under the headline "Dead in the water":

    Oyster farmers came to the realisation last week that the 100-year-old cultivation of Sydney rock oysters on the river had been destroyed by … QX...

    QX has been identified at oyster leases from Berowra Waters to Patonga and up Mooney Mooney and Mullet creeks.

    The most pressing need is for the river's 22 oyster farmers to remove thousands of tonnes of oysters and trays to stop the parasite from spreading...

    I am sure that everyone appreciates the magnitude of this tragedy. Some of the families whose names are synonymous with oyster farming are the Johnsons, the Moxhams, the Stubbses, the Buies, the Coopers and the Beugelings, some of whom have been involved in oyster farming for generations. When oyster farming began in the Hawkesbury area, oyster farmers used to sell bottles of oysters to train passengers or motorists who were stationary for a couple of hours while waiting for the ferry.

    I have met and spoken with a number of local leaseholders—solid family members who have devoted their lives to the business of farming oysters—and there is a solemnity about them as they deal with the pall that hangs over their future. Some are painting their homes so that when the inevitable occurs and they are forced to sell, they will be able to obtain the best price. Welfare officers have been alerted to the possibility that counselling will be needed for students of local primary schools and money is being set aside to meet any school needs that the children of oyster farmers may have. At the annual dinner that was held recently to commemorate Anzac Day, for the first time in living memory there were no Brooklyn oysters on the menu—a measure of the extent of the industry's destruction.

    The New South Wales Government must provide funding to clean up 400 hectares of oyster farms. It must support farmers for as long as is necessary while they assess the gravity of their situations and decide what to do about their future. The Government must monitor the affected areas and enable ongoing research so that a solution to the tragedy may be found. The rescue package offered so far by the Government is simply not good enough. The task force must come up with much better compensatory measures. Consideration must be given to waiving fees or granting extensions of time within which to pay. Assistance that has been offered to farmers so far is a mere drop in the ocean. The offer of 200,000 QX resistant oysters is nothing compared to what is needed, and the offer of $200,000 next year falls far short of the requirements of the industry. [Time expired.]