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Draft Oyster Industry OISAS Review Submission

schSun, 01/12/2013 - 9:49am

Mr Tim Gippel
Department of Primary Industries
Locked Bag 1
Nelson Bay
NSW 2315
4 November 2013
Dear Sir,
Re: Submission on Second Edition Oyster Industry Sustainable Aquaculture Strategy
This submission is on behalf of the North Arm Cove Aquaculture Committee which is part of the
North Arm Cove Resident’s Association (NACRA). The committee was formed in 2001 due to
the ongoing concerns of the residents regarding the unused derelict oyster racks at North Arm
Cove. Over the years we have had several meetings with the Department of Primary Industries
staff and two meetings with the Minister for Primary Industries. We had a two hour meeting with
Tim Gippel and Ian Lyall on Monday, 4 November 2013 to go over our concerns about the
review of the OISAS.
We are particularly concerned about the two leases just off the residential area at North Arm
Cove, namely OL86/138 and OL86/140.They have been substantially unworked for over twenty
years and we believe that they should be removed from the priority zoning in the OISAS.
We have divided our comments on the OISAS review into three areas. Firstly we have concerns
about the review that are general in nature, secondly we have comments about Port Stephens and
thirdly we will address the issues at North Arm Cove.
Section 1: General Comment
1.1 Sustainable Production
The opening statement of the review is about the vision to achieve 7,500 tonnes by 2020. We
believe that this figure is totally unachievable. If you look at the graph on page 6 of the review,
you will see that 7500 tonnes is right near the peak production of the 1970’s and does not totally
take into account reduced potential from Port Stephens due to the pacific oyster invasion and
from Botany Bay and the Hawkesbury River (disease due to water quality and Warragamba
Dam). Production has been consistently reducing over the last 30 years with production in
2011/2012 of 2978.6 tonnes, about 37% of the target.
We believe that there is a structural change in the industry. There are other factors at work
besides water quality such as increased fuel costs, changing food tastes, changes in work place
dining related to fringe benefit taxes and the more profit orientated nature of industry, changes in
the demography of the population, the small scale nature of the oyster farming industry, etc.
As a result of this over optimistic target, there is a false justification for requiring vast tracts of
our waterways zoned ‘priority’ for oyster farming. We understand that priority zonings are good
for the oyster industry for a number of reasons, but targets should be based on reality and in this
case, economic analysis.
1.2 Priority Lease Area
On page 36, it is stated that the average lease yield is 3.125 tonnes per hectare. This figure takes
into account the average amount needed for fallowing and the various stages of oyster growth.
The total area of “priority oyster aquaculture area” in the state is 3519 hectares (addition of last
column Table 6). This means that the “priority” leases are capable of producing 10,578 tonnes,
significantly more than the overoptimistic target of 7500 tonnes. In other words, there are far
more priority leases than are required.
1.3Triggers for review of OISAS
The triggers for review do not include a review after a set time period. This is a significant
change from the original strategy and most concerning! Nor does the review include a further
review if the industry is not improving to meet the projected sustainable figures. After all, leases
that are contentious are only required if production increases. Considering that the amount of
waterway zoned priority is far more than currently required to meet production, it would be
reasonable that the strategy should be reviewed on a regular basis, not just if production is falling
1.4Community consultation
There is still no mechanism for community consultation if the lease infrastructure is extended or
changed, or new species are added, the ownership changes and so on.
1.5 Lose it or lose it provisions
There are no use it or lose it provisions. Leases may be left fallow for up to 5 years, but there is
no definition of fallow. Does one tray mean a lease is worked? We noted that the June 2013
edition of the Aquaculture News included some discussion on this point. We were told at our
meeting with Fisheries staff at DPI that this issue is on the agenda, and we would like to see
something along these lines added to the strategy.
1.6 Environmental Impact of Oysters
There are many statements in the report regarding the health of the estuaries and the health of the
oysters and that “oysters are important in maintaining healthy estuaries” (page ii). However, this
does not mean that rivers require oysters on manmade structures to be healthy. In fact, there is no
consideration of the environmental damage caused by the structures required for an oyster
industry. We do note that there are some good environmental guidelines for the maintenance of
oyster leases within the document.
Section 2: Port Stephens
2.1 Production Targets
The target in the OISAS for Port Stephens is too high and therefore it is reasonable that not all
“priority” leases are required, especially in areas where there is strong community opposition and
which have marginal water quality.
 Port Stephens production has been stable for over 10 years at about 550 tonnes. The
historic maximum 10 year moving average is 2123 tonnes. Current production is 26% of
this target.
 Port Stephens has not been dramatically affected by disease and floods. The problems in
Port Stephens are primarily due to the introduction of the Pacific Oyster. Nor has there
been any indication that production might increase to take up the slack created by these
problems in other estuaries. It is stated in the review that it is not expected that the
industry will recover from the recent flood and disease events until at least 2018.
However, this should not apply to Port Stephens as these events have mostly been in
other estuaries. We cannot see why the stable production levels of the last 10 years in
Port Stephens are likely to change either up or down.
 Port Stephens used to be a prime catching area- pg7. 70% of all oysters originated from
Port Stephens. New culture methods do not require catching areas and contamination by
the Pacific oyster means that Port Stephens spat cannot be moved to other estuaries.
Therefore, there is another reason why production is unlikely to increase.
 If the way the sustainable production figures are going to be attained mean that each
estuary will increase production to the historic maximum 10 year moving average for
that estuary, then Port Stephens is going to have to increase production by 1570 tonnes,
double the amount of any other estuary- see the graph at the end of this submission. This
again seems unlikely.
2.2 Lease Yields
On page 36, it is stated that average yield for oysters leases in modern times is 3.125 tonnes per
hectare. If all the priority leases in Port Stephens are worked, the yield would be 2697.5 tonnes.
This is 574 tonnes more than the historic maximum 10 year moving average of 2123.3 tonnes and
27% more than is required. Therefore even if the target sustainable figures are accepted, then
there are many more leases than required in Port Stephens.
Section 3: North Arm Cove
3.3 History
The majority of the North Arm Cove Leases have not been worked for over 20 years. As
mentioned earlier, there are two leases off the residential area that are of most concern. The area
of these leases of 4.9ha is about 0.6% of the priority leases in Port Stephens. They restrict access
to the waterway and they are a hazard to the people using the waterway, especially due to the
strong prevailing easterly and north easterly winds and the continuous length of shoreline covered
by the leases.
OL86/138 has had a small section worked over the last 10 years, probably representing less than
5% of the lease area. The remainder has been totally unused for over twenty years. The northern
half of OL86/140 has not been worked since the late eighties. The southern half had a small
akoya pearl trial which ran over a couple of years with two longlines and a short section of
baskets hanging off railings. Otherwise, the leases have been unused for over twenty years.
Following many representations to government authorities, both leases were cleaned up about 10
years ago with the railings and shell overgrowth on the posts removed.
It appears that many of the leases at North Arm Cove are still uneconomical to work. We believe
the fundamental reasons why this situation will persist into the foreseeable future are water
quality and structural change in the oyster industry leading to lower production levels.
3.2 Water Quality:
Water quality in North Arm Cove is marginal. The North Arm Cove residential area is built on a
rocky promontory that would be very expensive to sewer. On the opposite side of the waterway is
another unsewered village. There are many old septic tanks, some of which are below the spring
high water level. There are also pumpouts and individual water treatment plants. The reality of
pumpouts is that they cause a lot of problems due to overflowing and the reluctance of many
households to spend $120 per week to have their tanks pumped out. In addition, the pump out
service is only available one day a week without paying a surcharge for an emergency.
There are also over 30 boats moored just off the leases near the residential area, plus this many
again moored around the Cove. Most do not have holding tanks and are another source of water
There is also the children’s camp up the Bundabah Creek and a proposed unsewered residential
area south of Bundabah. The opening to the main part of Port Stephens is narrow and this restricts
tidal turn around of water.
The water quality results from the Food Authority for 2011/2012 had 102 harvest closure days
over a 13 month period. This is equivalent to about 26% of the time. One of the oyster farmers
has told us that the water quality is marginal.
The OISAS review provides mechanisms to improve water quality, but the expense will mean
that it will be a long time before the problems at North Arm Cove are fixed and meanwhile we
will still have unused oyster leases.
3.3 Fallow Leases
Leases may be left fallow for up to 5 years, pg 43. The North Arm Cove leases off the residential
area, plus most of the other leases, have been substantially fallow for over 20 years. If the leases
were required for wintering they would be used. What are the work plans for the two leases at
North Arm Cove? We were told that OL86/140 was renewed in 2004 as it had a proper work
3.4 Target production levels
Leases OL86/138 and OL86/140 are not required to reach target production levels: There are 27%
more leases than required to meet the target production levels in Port Stephens.
3.5 Buying out leases
The “priority” zoning makes it much more difficult for the residents to negotiate buying out
marginal leases off the residential area, now or in the future.
3.5 Jetty and Boat Ramps
It is a major concern of the North Arm Cove Community Association that the Department of
Primary Industries was unaware of the studies undertaken by Great Lake Council to provide
water access for the residents of North Arm Cove. After extensive community consultation over
many years and investigations by consultants, plans have been drawn up for two areas, both of
which front “priority oyster leases”. A detailed submission has been made by the NACRA
representative, Doug Kohlkoff. Now would be an appropriate time to remove at least parts of
leases OL86/138 and OL86/140 from the priority zoning and compensate the lessees for
acquisition for a public purpose.
3.6 Minister’s letter
We have a letter from the Minister in 2002 stating that the lessee of OL86/140 would implement
a work plan which states when and how he is going to work the lease and the lease would not be
renewed if the plan is not properly implemented. A copy of this letter has been given to DPI and
will accompany our hard copy version of this submission. The lease has not been worked since
2002 except for a small trial of pearl shells and a couple of long lines for a short period. We
believe that enough chances have been given, even with the change of ownership of the lease, and
that the lease should be removed from the priority zoning.
Section 4: Conclusion
We understand that the primary aim of the document is to provide a statutory framework to
improve the viability of the oyster industry. It provides certainty for investment in the industry
and it also means that a number of environmental goals need to be achieved. We acknowledge
that the original document has gone some way towards achieving these goals.
Our main concern with the document is the very optimistic production target and the large areas
of waterways required as priority zones to achieve this target. We believe that more emphasis
should be given to “lose it or lose it “provisions and that those contentious areas like the leases
off North Arm Cove should be removed from the priority zoning.
We are quite concerned that the proposals for community infrastructure of two boat ramps and a
jetty at North Arm Cove are not included in the priority lease maps at this stage of the review. It
will only make it more difficult to get funding and to get the projects approved by other
government agencies. We are also concerned that the North Arm Cove community appears to be
in a no win situation. Oyster leases will not be properly worked or maintained until the water
quality has improved and the water quality will not improve because it is too expensive to put the
sewer through the area. We don’t win either way.
Finally, as the opening sentences of the review state that the aim is to achieve a large increase in
production, then there should be a trigger for review if this is not happening. It is most concerning
that the 5 year provisions for review have been removed.
Yours Sincerely,
Janine Reid
Aquaculture Committee
North Arm Cove Residents Association
Address for correspondence:
5a Penrhyn Ave,
Beecroft 2119

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