Shock, surprise at oyster report

Stewart Island oyster fishers are surprised at an inconclusive investigation into an oyster parasite outbreak. David Williams reports.

It’s not good enough, Rodney Clark says. The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) will not prosecute over the bonamia ostreae outbreak in Stewart Island’s Big Glory Bay – an outbreak that destroyed Clark’s business.

“I’m shocked,” says Clark, the co-owner of New Zealand's Bluff Oyster Company, which had its farmed oyster operation – millions of oysters and equipment – pulled up and buried in landfill last year, in the wake of the parasite find.

“That’s not good enough. I don’t swear very often, but I’m going to say that sounds like bullshit.

“I’m not pleased with that result. And I don’t think the other farmers and the people of Stewart Island or Bluff would accept that as an acceptable answer.”

Stuff reports the MPI investigation found no evidence to prove that bonamia ostreae was spread due to the non-compliant activity. The investigation found non-compliant record keeping but there was a lack of evidence or it fell outside the statute of limitations, Stuff reports.

New Zealand's Bluff Oyster Company is working on a “substantial” compensation claim, Clark tells Newsroom. But he thinks it’s unfair the taxpayer should pick up the tab.

“Clearly there were parties involved in bringing this organism down here. They are the ones who are responsible for this, they should be picking up the tab.”

Bluff Oyster Management Company Ltd operations manager Graeme Wright says there’s a general belief the parasite arrived in Stewart Island by “a human vector”.

“To get to Big Glory Bay you can’t get there without going through Foveaux Strait so it’s hard to imagine it would come through a vessel,” he says. “I think it’s quite possible that some of that spat may have been moved prior to a controlled area notice being imposed.”

As to the investigation result, he says: “I’m surprised that something hasn’t come out the investigation.”

Last year Wright blasted MPI’s response to bonamia as “incompetent” and “dysfunctional”. He stands by those comments, saying it took the ministry too long to decide to remove farmed oyster stocks in Stewart Island and Marlborough. But he says MPI’s response, to remove farmed oysters at Stewart Island, to protect the wild fishery in Foveaux Strait, was “fantastic”.

“The job they did to remove the oysters from Big Glory Bay – I really do think it’s a credit to them.”

Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor told RNZ on Monday he had asked “all the hard questions” of MPI about the spread of bonamia ostreae, and the result was “frustrating”. It was a fair assumption that infected breeding stock was moved down there, he said, but MPI “couldn’t get all information” from the parties.

But O’Connor said he had “moved on” and was now focused on preventing such an outbreak happening again.

MPI has been under pressure over several biosecurity incursions, including the spread of cattle disease mycoplasma bovis – which has prompted the cull of 22,300 animals – and kauri dieback disease.

Sanford Ltd, which also had its Stewart Island farming operation removed after the bonamia ostreae outbreak, could not be reached for comment.

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