Richmond River oyster population could be decimated

AN outbreak of QX disease in the Richmond River's oyster population could see up to 95% of the species decimated.

Ballina oyster farmer Geoff Lawler, from Steinhardt's Oysters, said he had received a positive confirmation of the disease following testing by the Department of Primary Industries' Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute.

It's a disease that's triggered by a parasite that forms spores on Sydney rock oysters, resulting in the oyster's deterioration and causing it to die through winter.

Mr Lawler, who has been an oyster farmer for 25 years, said the last QX outbreak in the Richmond River was in 2010.

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He said it has the potential to destroy as much as 95% of the species.

"It means that the Richmond River is unreliable as far as trying to develop a business plan," he said.

"If you've got that potential for a disease strike you just can't grow oysters in the Richmond River for the full three years."

Mr Lawler said at the peak of the region's oyster farming industry in the mid-70s, prior to the first QX outbreak, the annual haul was about 700 bags worth.

He said now oyster farmers were lucky to bring in 10 to 15 bags every year.

Both the Brunswick and Tweed Rivers have also been affected by the disease, however they are classified as "low risk".

Mr Lawler, who grows oysters in the Brunswick and Tweed Rivers before transporting them to the Richmond for harvest, said Tweed used to have serious QX outbreak in the 80s, however they have decreased since money was spent on improving the water quality by fixing drains, removing floodgates and laser levelling cane fields.

"QX strikes in the Brunswick and Tweed but they're classified at a low risk," he said.

"They have detected QX in the Brunswick, but as far as farming goes, we haven't had the "mass mortality" like we have in the Richmond."

The Department of Primary Industries says oysters are valuable environmental indictors, sometimes referred to as "the canaries of the estuary."

Monitoring oysters can detect environmental damage before it is otherwise apparent.


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