Oyster harvest a long way off

Urunga oyster grower John Lindsay was glad to find his oyster leases stood up to the floodwaters.
Urunga oyster grower John Lindsay was glad to find his oyster leases stood up to the floodwaters. Leigh Jensen

OYSTER rafts have held firm in the flooded Bellinger and Kalang rivers, but growers' hopes of an Easter harvest have suffered a blow.

As the swollen rivers receded yesterday, industry stakeholders inspected their leases and cleared flood debris.

Urunga grower John Lindsay currently has 20,000 dozen, valued around $120,000, in the Bellinger River.

Mr Lindsay said it could be weeks before water quality testing can begin, meaning the odds of his oysters getting to market anytime soon are slim.

All the same, he’s optimistic things can only improve.

“It was a good thing to find the water levels around the rafts were lower than the king tides we had earlier this month,” Mr Lindsay said.

“But the big job will be raising the rafts after the floodwaters clear, washing all the mud off and waiting for salinity levels to improve in the river. The clean-up usually takes about a month.”

His Urunga-based company, Lindsay’s Oyster Barn, harvested 10,000 dozen in September, but has since relied on produce from Wallace Lake.

“If we get another fresh, then pretty much we’ll have to leave our oysters in the rafts over winter. If that happens we’ll have big oysters towards the end of the year, but hopefully the weather is kind to us and we get them off sooner,” he said.

Kalang River grower Jeff Wright said last year was one of the worst he’d seen in his 35 years in the local industry.

“While we had the big floods in 2009, last year low salinity levels in the river made it a tough season,” Mr Wright said.

“There were so many freshes in the river that there was only a small window for harvest. The weather, along with tougher restrictions and water quality issues, saw some growers leave the industry altogether.

“Touch wood conditions improve, but this wet season is only starting.

“The cyclones are yet to come, and if a lot of rain follows we’ll be in the gun barrels again and there’ll be a lot at stake,” he said.

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