Tuesday, December 2, 2014

02/12/2014: Sydney Rock oyster producers welcome new Chinese markets, but not Pacific oysters

Farmers of the iconic Sydney Rock oyster say they are sticking with their niche markets, rather than chasing a larger trade to China with the faster growing Pacific oyster, ABC News reports.

The oyster industry is seen as a potential winner following the signing of the China Free Trade Agreement (FTA). But while growers in New South Wales are keen to exploit the potential of the FTA, they are wary that the rush to export may compromise production of the iconic Sydney Rock oyster. They suggest trade opportunities could lead to the faster growing Pacific oyster being allowed in waters presently only open to Sydney Rocks.

"The Sydney Rock oyster is always going to be a smaller niche market," says Andy Baker who farms at Pambula Lake on the south coast of NSW.

"There is the need to find more discreet and discretionary importers rather than pursuing the bulk oyster production that other countries are better than us at doing.”

Mr Baker has operated on Pambula Lake for 20 years where around ten farmers harvest the Sydney Rock oyster. They have so far have resisted moves to give the Pacific species a trial.

Supporters of the bigger Pacific Oyster say it is faster to grow, is more economical as a result and is already familiar to Asian customers. Pacific oysters can be ready for market in 12 months compared to three to four years for its slower growing Sydney counterpart. Critics of the Pacific oyster suggest it takes over waterways, and out-competes the Sydney Rock.

"I can understand it from a bottom-line point of view. But what about tomorrow and what about next week? I am not sure that the economic bottom line should be the only measure of what we grow," Mr Baker argues.

"The estuaries in New South Wales are completely unique to this country and we have a native oyster that has grown here for many millions of years. You can grow Pacifics anywhere but you can't do that with a Sydney Rock," Mr Baker argues.

"While the Sydney Rock is in demand, then some of these estuaries ought to be native oyster only.”

Mr Baker says his oyster shed, which looks out over Pambula Lake, was one of the first granted an license to export direct without going through agents. He has sold his Sydney Rock oysters to the Middle East and parts of Asia such as Singapore and Hong Kong.

"Finding people who knew about the Sydney oyster and were happy to import it was easy. The more difficult part is finding people willing to pay you consistently.”

Gary Rodley farms on Nelson Lake near Tathra and has also developed a niche Australian market for his Sydney Rock oysters.They are keenly sought after by many of Australia's top chefs. While he sees advantages to selling overseas, he is not yet ready to abandon his present market.

"It's certainly exciting times in the oyster industry and it is going to be interesting to see what the impact of the Free Trade Agreement will be," he said.

"The other guys will have the opportunity to place their oysters overseas into markets such as China, to cash in on the wealthy Chinese. But we are only small producers. We are pushing to produce half a million oysters this year and we can readily place them in the domestic market.”

Like Andy Baker, Mr Rodley is also unwilling to see Pacific oysters grown in Nelson Lake.

"Its easier to grow a Pacific, and it is faster. To grow Sydney Rock oysters you have to be driven. Hopefully there will always be the passionate oyster farmer that wants to grow Sydney Rock oysters because of the understanding that it is the best oyster in the world." Mr Rodley explained. 

Read the article HERE.

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