Tasmania’s Stories

Super oysters lift industry

Edition 184_Oyster_Farm

Promising trials of a newly developed super Pacific oyster have instilled renewed confidence in Tasmania's $26 million industry.

Local growers were harvesting more than 4 million Pacific oysters a year and Tasmanian hatcheries were supplying other States with 90 per cent of their spat requirements when they were stopped in their tracks in early 2016 by an unprecedented outbreak of Pacific oyster mortality syndrome (POMS).

The disease had decimated industries in France and Sydney and first appeared in Tasmania during a marine heatwave when water temperatures rose 4 degrees and remained elevated for weeks.

POMS wiped out millions of oysters in south-east Tasmania, cost farmers millions of dollars and caused temporary farm closures and the loss of many jobs.

A $7.6 million State-Federal response package included funding to speed up the development of a POMS-resistant oyster.

Scientist Matt Cunningham has been selectively breeding increasingly POMS-resistant oysters in a hatchery at the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) in Hobart.

In May, millions of his most resistant stock were introduced to Pitt Water, a growing area east of Hobart where the deadly virus was first identified.

"Funnily enough what we have to do in this game is to put them ... in harm's way, with the POMS virus," Mr Cunningham told Fiona Breen of the ABC.

"We've got to trust that we've done a good job in breeding these oysters and that they are resistant.

"Unfortunately they are going to go out and be challenged and that's the way we weed out the weak ones."

The Pacific oyster industry nationwide had been funding the research since before the virus was first detected in Australia in 2011, in New South Wales waters.

Increased funds from the Tasmanian and Federal governments following the Tasmanian outbreak has enabled IMAS to ramp up its research.

"The seed that is going out into the water today is our Y16 seed ...we had a great result in our hatchery," Mr Cunningham said.

"Our 76 families give us a lot of genetic diversity and a lot of choices for the future."

Those that survive the next wave of POMS, expected next summer, will be used to repopulate the Tasmanian industry.

Pitt Water oyster farmer Josh Poke is counting on the geneticists to pull the industry through.

Like most Tasmanian Pacific oyster farmers, he has gone through two major rounds of POMS and survived last summer's second wave with mixed results.

"We probably lost 3.5 million of our seed oysters," Mr Poke said.

On the Tasman Peninsula, third-generation oyster farmer Ben Cameron has adopted a window-farming approach, limiting operations to eight months of the year.

"It's not a long-term solution. We need to be looking to extend our windows of operation, not to permanently contract them," Mr Cameron told the ABC.

"I think the good thing about us having a hatchery is the access to ... abundant surviving brood stock that we can breed from," Mr Cameron said.

Before POMS arrived, the Camerons supplied millions of baby oysters to the South Australian Pacific oyster industry, which is still POMS-free.

The discovery of the virus in Tasmania led to a ban on the movement of anything oyster related between the two States and was a serious setback to the Camerons' business and to the South Australian industry that relied on their spat.

Tasmania's Pacific oysters have been improved through genetic selection over generations, ever since they were introduced to the State from Japan as war reparation in 1947.

Overseas producers gather their spat from the wild and this prevents them from matching the genetic improvements that have been made in Tasmania.

In a big move, the Camerons joined a South Australian seafood business to build a hatchery near Port Lincoln which has just started supplying farmers.

"The relief on some of these farmers faces, they are so happy, it's a sign of hope and a sign they've got a future in farming," Mr Cameron said.

The Tasmanian Budget in May confirmed funding for a $1.2 million biotoxin testing laboratory that will enable local growers to phase out time-consuming and costly interstate testing.

The new facility will be built in southern Tasmania.

While science and investment provides welcome good news in a troubled industry, oyster lovers can expect to continue to pay more in the near future.

A continuing national shortage of spat will constrain supply.

South Australian Oyster Growers Association spokesperson, Trudy McGowan, said: “Growers have received about a third of the spat they normally would receive and so this will lead to some level of shortage, but we are not sure how much.

“Prices may go up as you would expect with any shortage, but by how much is not known at this stage.”

If there is one message that is critical to the industry it is that Pacific oysters remain safe to eat.

"Oysters are a very safe product," Mr Cunningham said.

"The POMS virus is very specific to oysters; it has no human impact whatsoever so keep eating oysters, we need you to keep eating oysters."

Image courtesy of Martin Turmine

6 June 2017, Edition 184

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Facts about Tasmania


Tasmania is the southernmost state of Australia, located at latitude 40° south and longitude 144° east and separated from the continent by Bass Strait. It is a group of 334 islands, with the main island being 315 km (180 miles) from west to east and 286 km (175 miles) north to south.


Tasmanians are resourceful and innovative people, committed to a continually expanding export sector. In 2012-13, international exports from the state totalled $3.04 billion. USA, China, Taiwan, India, Japan and other Asian countries account for the bulk of exports, with goods and services also exported to Europe and many other regions.


Tasmania is similar in size to the Republic of Ireland or Sri Lanka. The Tasmanian islands have a combined coastline of more than 3,000 km.


The main island has a land area of 62,409 sq km (24,096 sq miles) and the minor islands, taken together, total only 6 per cent of the main island's land area. The biggest islands are Flinders (1,374 sq km/539 sq miles), King, Cape Barren, Bruny and Macquarie Islands.


About 250km (150 miles) separates Tasmania’s main island from continental Australia. The Kent Group of Islands, one of the most northerly parts of the state, is only 55km (34 miles) from the coast of the Australian continent.


Twice named 'Best Temperate Island in the World' by international travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler, Tasmania has a mild, temperate maritime climate, with four distinct seasons.


In summer (December to February) the average maximum temperature is 21° Celsius (70° Fahrenheit). In winter (June to August) the average maximum is 12° C (52° F) and the average minimum is 4° C (40° F). Snow often falls in the highlands, but is rarely experienced in more settled areas.

Annual Rainfall

Tasmania’s west coast is one of the wettest places in the world, but the eastern part of the State lives in a rain-shadow. Hobart, the second-driest capital city in Australia, receives about half as much rain as Sydney.

Annual Rainfall

Annual rainfall in the west is 2,400 mm (95 inches), but hardy locals insist there is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing. If you travel 120 km east to Hobart, you experience a much drier average of 626 mm (24 inches) a year.


The 512,875-strong community spreads itself across the land; less urbanised than the population of any other Australian state. Hobart, the capital city, is home to more than 212,000 people.

Capital City

Hobart nestles at the foot of Mt Wellington (1,270 m / 4,000 ft) and overlooks the Derwent Estuary, where pods of dolphins and migrating whales are sometimes seen from nearby beaches. Surrounded by thickly forested rolling hills, the city is home to the state parliament and the main campus of the University of Tasmania.

Capital City

Its historic centre features Georgian and Regency buildings from colonial times. Hobart is home port for coastal fishing boats, Antarctic expeditions and vessels that fish the Southern Ocean.

Land Formation

Mountain ranges in the south-west date back 1,000 million years. Ancient sediments were deeply buried, folded and heated under enormous pressure to form schists and glistening white quartzites.

Land Formation

In the south-west and central highlands, dolerite caps many mountains, including Precipitous Bluff and Tasmania's highest peak, Mt Ossa (1617 m / 5300 ft). More than 42 per cent of Tasmania is World Heritage Area, national park and marine or forest reserves.


Vegetation is diverse, from alpine heathlands and tall open eucalypt forests to areas of temperate rainforests and moorlands, known as buttongrass plains. Many plants are unique to Tasmania and the ancestors of some species grew on the ancient super-continent, Gondwana, before it broke up 50 million years ago.


Unique native conifers include slow-growing Huon pines, with one specimen on Mt Read estimated to be up to 10,000 years old. Lomatia tasmanica, commonly known as King's holly, is a self-cloning shrub that may well be the oldest living organism on earth. It was discovered in 1937.


Tasmania is the last refuge of several mammals that once roamed the Australian continent. It is the only place to see a Tasmanian devil or eastern quoll (native cat) in the wild and is the best place to see the spotted-tailed quoll (tiger cat), all carnivorous marsupials.


The eastern bettong and the Tasmanian pademelon, both now extinct on the Australian continent, may also be observed.


The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, was Australia's largest surviving carnivorous marsupial and is a modern day mystery. The last documented thylacine died in captivity in 1936 and although the animal is considered extinct, unsubstantiated sightings persist.

History and Heritage

Aboriginal people have lived in Tasmania for about 35,000 years, since well before the last Ice Age. They were isolated from the Australian continent about 12,000 years ago, when the seas rose to flood low coastal plains and form Bass Strait.

History and Heritage

Descendants of the original people are part of modern Tasmania's predominantly Anglo-Celtic population.

History and Heritage

Tasmania was originally named Van Dieman’s Land by the Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman in 1642. The island was settled by the British as a penal colony in 1803 and the original name was associated with the convict era. It was changed to Tasmania when convict transportation stopped in 1853.


A resourceful island culture has generated leading-edge niche industries, from production of high-speed catamaran ferries and marine equipment to lightning-protection technology.


Tasmanians produce winches and windlasses for some of the world's biggest ocean-going pleasure craft; large-scale inflatable evacuation systems and provide specialist outfit-accommodation services to the marine industry.


The Wooden Boat Centre at Shipwrights Point has re-established the skills and traditions of another age and attracts students from around the world.


Tasmania is a world leader in natural turf systems for major sporting arenas and in areas of mining technology and environmental management. Its aquaculture industry has developed ground-breaking fish-feeding technology and new packaging.


Tasmanians sell communications equipment to many navies and their world-class fine timber designers and craftsmen take orders internationally for furniture made from distinctive local timber.


The state is a natural larder with clean air, unpolluted water and rich soils inviting the production of 100 varieties of specialty cheeses, as well as other dairy products, mouth-watering rock lobsters, oysters, scallops and abalone, Atlantic salmon, beef, premium beers, leatherwood honey, mineral waters, fine chocolates, fresh berry fruits, apples and crisp vegetables.


Tasmania is a producer of award-winning cool-climate wines, beers, ciders and whiskies. Other export products include essential oils such as lavender, pharmaceutical products and premium wool sought after in Europe and Asia. Hobart is a vital gateway to the Antarctic and a centre for Southern Ocean and polar research.


The industries in Tasmania which made the greatest contribution to the state's gross product in 2010-11 in volume terms were: Manufacturing (9.4%), Health care and social assistance (8.2%), Financial and insurance services (7.2%), Ownership of dwellings and Agriculture, forestry and fishing (each 7.1%).

Getting to Tasmania

Travel is easy, whether by air from Sydney or Melbourne, or by sea, with daily sailings of the twin ferries Spirit of Tasmania 1 and 2 each way between Melbourne and Devonport throughout the year.

This site has been produced by the Brand Tasmania Council © 2014

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