Local oyster industry is in tatters

Running close to empty: Urunga oyster farmer John Lindsay says he can’t wait another three years.
Running close to empty: Urunga oyster farmer John Lindsay says he can’t wait another three years. Ute Schulenberg

IT’S been two and a half years since the closure of the Kalang River to oyster harvesting and the sole grower remaining, John Lindsay, says it could be another three before that changes.

“I’m cranky,” Mr Lindsay said yesterday. “The Kalang River Working Group has identified five contentious sites. Of them, four are being dealt with, which leaves Newry Island, where a geo-technical consultant found a major percentage of the septics had failed.

“This comes back to the council – it’s their fault for taking so long to begin a regime of inspections. Now we learn the rest of the island needs to be sewered, which could take as long as three years. I am looking into employing a compensation lawyer.”

Bellingen Shire Council’s director of environmental health and planning, Charlie Hannavy, said the council was indeed considering a proposal to sewer 42 properties on Newry Island but there was as yet no time frame.

“We have just sent letters to those residents in the unsewered section of the island telling them the council is considering extending the sewer and we estimate the cost for each of them to be $15,000,” Mr Hannavy said.

“This is the initial stage of community consultation and people have until the end of January to respond.”

Mr Hannavy said it would make sense for the council to upgrade the sewer on the island as it would guarantee the long-term water quality of the estuary.

“It would also negate the need for property owners to maintain their own on-site sewerage management.”

Interim chair of the Kalang River Working Group Greg Bell said this was a positive point in terms of fixing the river contamination problem.

“A lot of work has been done over the past two years,” Mr Bell said.

“We’ve identified all the actual and potential sources of contamination and now we are working on stopping all the immediate forms of pollution and putting in the infrastructure for the long-term – this includes extending the sewer on Newry Island.”

He said he believed the process had been a very positive one and would ultimately guarantee the river and estuary remained free of any human effluent.

“It has taken longer than we’d like but I believe due process has been followed.”

Mr Lindsay said it had been hard enough ‘hanging in there’ for two years but he could not continue to survive without any income.

“Last year in spite of the floods we had good spells of sunny weather and we could harvest from the Bellinger,” he said.

“But this year with the prolonged rain we haven’t harvested since September because the salinity is too low. I’ve just had to fire sale 10,000 dozen oysters to Forster. If I didn’t have the retail outlet I’d be gone.”

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