Plan for future health of Manning oyster industry

THE oyster farming industry in the Manning River is more than 140 years old and worth over $1 million annually.

In fact, the Manning River is so suitable for oyster farming that according to the president of Manning River Oyster Farmers, Ian Crisp, 146,000 dozen mature oysters were harvested last year alone.

The Manning River also operates as a kind of nursery, with baby Sydney Rock Oysters supplied to farmers in other estuaries.

At the core of the local industry is the health of the Manning River.

Oysters are the proverbial 'canary in the mine'. If there is something wrong with the water quality, whether it be a change in the delicate blend of fresh and salt water, or the presence of runoff from agricultural activities, oysters will be the first to show it.

This is why local oyster farmers are voluntarily participating in the development of an Environmental Management System (EMS) to identify the current risks and opportunities within the local industry and within the catchment generally.

The development of the EMS has been overseen by OceanWatch Australia, a not-for-profit environmental organisation that works to advance sustainability in the Australian seafood industry.

On Monday, Andy Myers from OceanWatch led a meeting at the Taree Visitor Information Centre, which included representatives from Manning River Oyster Farmers, staff from Greater Taree City Council, MidCoast Water and the Hunter-Central Rivers Catchment Authority.

"The Manning River Oyster Farmers is a well-represented group of pro-active farmers, which is fortunate for this area," Andy said. "Many other areas don't have such a strong network.

"The completed EMS will help to ensure the long-term sustainability of oyster farming by reducing and preventing negative impacts on the environment."

The most common concerns for local oyster farmers are river bank erosion and cattle faecal pollution due to a lack of stock fencing on farms, acid sulphate soils and the removal of vegetation, including mangroves, along the river over the past 100 years.

Ian Crisp said Manning River Oyster Farmers are able to assist local cattle farmers obtain grants to fence their river bank.

"We can provide supporting documentation to assist with grants. I believe more than 90 per cent of faecal coliform pollution in our river is due to cattle runoff," Ian said.

Once the risk factors are documented within the EMS, it will be an important tool to gain further access to grants from State and Federal governments, for projects identified as necessary to improve the quality of the Manning River.

Already over the past two years local oyster farmers have obtained $40,000 worth of grants and contributed $120,000 worth of in-kind support themselves.

Some of the work achieved so far has been the removal of old tar-wood and treated-timber based infrastructure from the river which has been replaced with reusable plastic products which are more environmentally sustainable.

Over the longer term, oyster farmers would like to see the river entrance permanently opened via training walls, like other rivers along the North Coast.

But they are not hopeful of this happening any time soon.

"We've been talking about this issue for 100 years. There is a lot of information on both sides about whether training walls are the best solution, but from an oyster

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farmer's perspective, when it comes to salinity and water flow, we would love to see a permanent entrance built to keep the Harrington entrance open," Mrs Crisp said. (See story page 2)

An Environmental Management System will be part of an ongoing process of environmental improvement within the Manning River catchment.

Manning River Oyster Farmers welcome any comments or suggestions from interested stakeholders. To make a submission, or for more information, contact Andy Myers at OceanWatch on 0488 656 399 and he will forward suggestions to the Manning River Oyster Farmers.

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