Oyster grower Geoff Lawler is sick of poachers stealing from his leases on the Brunswick, Tweed and Richmond rivers.
Oyster grower Geoff Lawler is sick of poachers stealing from his leases on the Brunswick, Tweed and Richmond rivers. Marc Stapelberg

Sharp spike in oyster thefts

A BALLINA oyster grower is ready to quit the industry after poachers stole from his oyster lease on the Brunswick River over Christmas.

"It's easier for people to go out and steal the oysters than it is for me to go and grow them," said Geoff Lawler of Steinhardt's Oysters in Ballina.

"I've been in the industry for 20 years but I'm ready to go and get a job in the mines if this continues."

While the stolen oysters were only worth about $30, Mr Lawler said the loss could have been a lot worse.

"They cut my long line which had 250 dozen oysters on it which are potentially worth $2000 if they are grown to restaurant grade. If the thieves cut the other end I would have lost the lot, so they are just thinking solely of themselves."

Mr Lawler said he also had oysters stolen from his leases on the Richmond and Tweed Rivers.

"I have had oysters stolen in the past where the thieves have gone through sampling the oysters and only taking the best, restaurant-quality oysters," he said.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries has warned that both opportunistic thieves and organised crime syndicates are causing a spike in oyster thefts.

An estimated $6000 worth of oysters were stolen from the Bellinger area recently and 12,000 oysters were also stolen from the Hawkesbury River.

Police are now using covert operations to target oyster poachers and community members are asked to call Crime Stoppers if someone tries to sell them cheap seafood on the black market.

In an example of poetic justice, Mr Lawler said the thieves may have become sick from eating their bounty because the oysters were yet to go through stringent purification procedures.

"We just use it as a nursery river because the harvest of oysters for human consumption in the Brunswick River is strictly prohibited because of the outfall from the Ocean Shores sewerage treatment plant," he said.



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