Kangaroo Island's oyster industry is on the road to recovery after a few lean years due to the state-wide juvenile oyster shortage.
Tasmanian hatcheries previously provided about 80 per cent of South Australian juvenile oyster or spat supply, but biosecurity issues relating to the POMS (Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome) disease in Tasmania meant this supply was no longer available.
New hatcheries were set up in South Australia and are starting to produce good amounts of larger, POMS resistant spat, which are now finding their way into Kangaroo Island's oyster farms at American River and Redbanks.
Ken Rowe is managing director Kangaroo Island Shellfish, and board member and KI representative on SA Oyster Growers Association and SA Oyster Research Council.
“Great to be over the spat shortage and see new interest in KI oyster region," Mr Rowe said. "Our brand and future will be enhanced by working together as growers.”
With an 18 month to two-year grow out time, KI growers will most likely experience one more season of low supply to market, but then sales-size oysters should become plentiful, he said.
"The minimal supply and consequent higher price have had effects on both growers and down stream businesses, with some restaurants taking them off the menu. Things are set to change."
On Kangaroo Island, this period has provided a perfect opportunity for growers to get their niche oyster industry in order.
New grower, native oyster return
Several exciting developments are happening or are on the horizon including a new grower in the Redbanks region.
Bob Nicholson from Kangaroo Island Oyster Company and son of prominent New Zealand oyster growers has brought his enthusiasm and knowledge to the region.
Mr Nicholson is using different methods to those mostly used in SA with good early success. He and other growers on the Island are also working extensively with the native oyster or Angasi species, with some spectacular early results.
The native oyster was once fished on KI but to the point that the beds and reefs were all but destroyed. Now Mr Rowe is excited about the native oyster.
“Diversifying with the Angasi oyster has been a long term strategy of ours as we think it fits well with the KI Brand, both as a provincial product and as an export opportunity," Mr Rowe said.
"We don’t think it will replace the Pacific oyster, which KI has become well known for and will keep growing, but adds another dimension to our local industry.
"It has great benefits being a native species and we also see it as a food for the future."
Shop to reopen, proposed subdivison
Other news includes the short-term, end-of-season closure of the Oyster Farm Shop at American River.
"The spat shortage and unavailability of summer oysters prompted us to take the opportunity to freshen up the shop," Mr Rowe said.
"When the oyster season opens in April, we hope to have a few fresh faces and coats of paint around and be set for further growth.
"The shop has been running continuously for eight years and has become recognised as one of the top Island attractions for tourists."
Another exciting development is the proposed subdivision of the Kangaroo Island Shellfish leases south of Ballast Head.
"We have quite a lot of good water, around 16 hectares, which in recent times we have only utilised about half," Mr Rowe said.
"We thought the time was right to let some one else join in and work along side us as part of this growing industry.
"We, and our great staff over the years have worked hard on building the reputation of the KI oyster industry nationally and even globally, and now it is rewarding to see new farmers getting involved and the opportunities that lay before us”.
Over the years, KI Shellfish has employed more than 80 local staff and during its busiest times employs around 15 from drivers, to farm hands, farm shop staff and processors.
With more oysters coming though the farms, boaties are advised to watch out for our farms at both Ballast Head and Redbank regions.
Oyster leases in SA are marked off with yellow Saint Andrew crosses on the corners and it is illegal to enter these zones.
"Please watch out for them when cruising around to avoid causing damage to your boat and the farm structures," Mr Rowe said.
Aquaculture to restore habitat
Across Australia, Mr Rowe said there were a growing number of research projects in place working to develop commercial outcomes alongside restoration of highly productive marine habitats.
A significant, new proposal in the pipeline is the creation of an industry-centred research cooperative.
The Cooperative Research Centre for Coastal Health and Wealth has the vision of securing and enhancing the productivity, profitability and sustainability of industries and assets, natural and built, throughout Australia’s coastlines, he said.
"Aquaculture development that is actively linked to delivery of environmental and social outcomes is currently a unique proposition, but is rapidly gaining interest," Mr Rowe said.
"Few areas globally are yet to design aquaculture in a way that it actively supports environmental outcomes, such as improvements in water quality, seagrass health and biodiversity, and social outcomes, such as increases in fisheries stocks and commercial and recreational activity or unique tourism opportunities."
The CRC for Coastal Health and Wealth is looking to Kangaroo Island as a key case study area and has identified opportunities to link oyster aquaculture to the development of a unique coastal landscape, incorporating aquaculture development and innovation with oyster reef restoration, native species food tourism, fisheries and broader environmental outcomes.
"The cooperative encourages land-based producers and businesses on Kangaroo Island to get involved to deliver local, cost effective and globally innovative outcomes that will address longstanding issues associated with catchment run-off into the sea," Mr Rowe said.
"Seagrass loss remains a major challenge for Kangaroo Island’s coastline and oyster aquaculture, oyster restoration and ethical business models for investment could put aquaculture on the island, on the map."