Noroviruses detected in Kalang oysters

KALANG River oyster grower John Lindsay can't believe the timing.

Just as he and the river's two other growers were about to start harvesting this year's crop of fat molluscs the river has been closed by the NSW Food Authority.

“Our rivers here fatten up first and it's our chance to hit the market early,” Mr Lindsay said.

“We were looking forward to a harvest worth between $800,000 and $1 million this year but now we just have to look at them.”

Detection of some human noroviruses in oysters collected from the Kalang caused the closure a week and a half ago.

The virus is the most common cause of nonbacterial gastrointestinal illness and according to John Williams, chairman of the NSW Government's working group now dealing with the matter, is linked to human faecal contamination with on-site sewerage management systems and reticulated sewers potential sources.

Mr Williams said the prompt re-opening of the river was the top priority of the group, which includes representatives of government agencies, local council and the industry.

Initial tasks in tackling the problem include identifying the source and stopping it, sampling shellfish to determine the extent of the contamination and helping growers get back to business with a safe healthy product.

Mr Lindsay said there were only five septic systems on the river and the early detection of the virus meant there was still some light at the end of the tunnel.

“If we can get on top of this quickly, it might be possible for parts of the river to be reclassified.

“Then we could do our harvest from there.”

However the recent experience of growers on the neighbouring Bellinger River, which was closed in June 2006 following some irregular water test results, does not bode well.

Although now re-classified, the river has still not been officially re-opened for harvesting.

Mr Lindsay fears the process could be similar with the Kalang.

“The process could take up to 12 months but we still have to work and tend the oysters.

“We're just doing it without any income - nothing is easy in this game.”

On Friday the New South Wales Food Authority confirmed all shellfish purchased through commercial seafood outlets was safe.

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