Stinker’s History: Greater people I have never met

A local oyster grower climbs a mountain of discarded Pacific oysters destroyed on orders by the State Government.

IT was 1984 and Port Stephens oyster farmers continued to grow high quality Sydney Rock oysters that were in high demand.

Nothing in the foreseeable future could slow the progress of the industry as it seemed to all that the future was one of investment, prosperity and stability.

Worimi workers were highly respected for their reliability, honesty, skill and their general presence in the oyster sheds that were spread around the port.

The local oyster growers were completely unaware that their world was about to be turned upside down.

The industry was shaken to its very roots by an intruder, “a non-Indigenous invader” that challenged the established and highly prized Sydney Rock oyster.

The Pacific oyster, endemic to the Asian region, had entered the port.

The Government reacted by imposing strict controls in 1986 declaring the Pacific oyster a “noxious species” and prevented any attempt at growing and marketing the “intruder”.

Oyster growers were firstly directed to destroy the Pacifics by culling and burning the intruder.

Once it was realised that it was impossible to eradicate the intruder, the State Government reluctantly declared that the Pacific oyster was here to stay.

The outcome was a begrudging acceptance of the Pacific oyster into our waterway resulting in the cultivation and marketing of two species of oyster – Sydney Rock and Pacific.

The story of what followed is a long one of hardship and disappointment, battling back to reestablish the industry to its former glory.

Hard work and dogged persistence by the oyster growers resulted in the Port Stephens oyster industry struggling back onto its feet only to be confronted by another unforeseen enemy.

A virus, known as POMS (Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome) impacted on the Pacific oysters, destroying millions of mature and developing oysters and threatening the very livelihood of oyster growing families.

Again the industry recovered.

In more recent times an equally devastating intrusion is threatening to destroy the industry yet again.

The QX parasite has entered the port attacking and destroying the Sydney Rock oyster.

Q for Queensland, where the parasite was first detected and X meaning unknown.

Very little is known about the parasite which makes it almost impossible to combat.

The problem was first detected in Port Stephens in August 2021 and again in February 2022.

Since then QX has wiped out the entire Sydney Rock oyster population in the region which had supplied around sixteen percent of the state’s supply.

Some years ago, I wrote ‘Oysterman’, a book which gave me the opportunity to meet and befriend many of the families that had made Port Stephens the oyster growing capital.

Greater people I am yet to meet.

I can only hope that somehow the problem can be resolved and our fantastic oyster industry can reemerge.

It must be stated that the oysters that are available in Port Stephens are of the highest quality and are no risk to human health.

By John ‘Stinker’ CLARKE

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