Cleaner Kaipara water could produce best oysters in world

By Wayne Thompson

The clean waters of Kaipara Harbour can produce "the best oysters in the world", says oyster farming pioneer Jim Dollimore.

His Biomarine company is seeking a 30-year consent to have a 104ha farm on a sandbank in the middle of the North Island west coast harbour.

The main reason for a change from farming in the Mahurangi Harbour on the eastern - and more populous side - of the Rodney District coast was to have access to clean water, Mr Dollimore told Auckland Regional Council commissioners yesterday.

"Oysters are prized as a delicacy to be eaten raw, frequently accompanied by champagne and considerable expectations, for which their aphrodisiac reputation is invoked," he said.

"This reputation can however be completely denigrated by a bout of severe food poisoning."

"Caterers and restaurateurs would love to serve raw oysters but cannot risk food poisoning."

The farm would be the marine equivalent of a a fattening or finishing farm for animals on land.

Oysters would be transferred there from nurseries in other areas.

Mr Dollimore said oyster-exporting consortium Jemco aimed to lift the profile of New Zealand oysters to the highest level.

But it needed to be able to grow its elite oysters for eating raw in truly safe intertidal waters.

The tidal waters of the central part of Kaipara Harbour were clear of pollution even after heavy rain. Mahurangi Harbour growing waters were conditionally approved and must close after rainfall and for all the summer boating season.

Kaipara tests showed that because of the large water flow and high levels of phytoplankton, which the oysters filter out for feed, oysters recovered condition more quickly after spawning.

This would allow the harvesting season to be extended and earlier - allowing a potential 150 permanent jobs.

"The quality of the oysters would be greatly improved to become the best in the world," said Mr Dollimore.

Better prices could be commanded, though export returns from the farm would be about $18 million at $9 a dozen. The company would work in with the Rodney and Kaipara economic development trusts to develop "foodie" tourism by offering "best in the world" class food.

Oysters could join the highly regarded foods already grown on the shores of the Kaipara - kumara, wine, capsicums and organic produce.

Mr Dollimore expected the Kaipara operation to achieve higher yields than those achieved by farms in South Australia.

They have 20 years' experience in the proposed method where oysters would be grown in baskets suspended on long wires strung between poles.

Mr Dollimore said oyster farmers were walking a tight rope after Mahurangi farms had suffered closures because of pollution incidents.

The new farm was mooted four years ago, he said, but hearing of the application was caught up in the Government moratorium on marine farming extension from July 2001 to last December.

Dorothy-Jean McCoubrey, of the Food Safety Authority, said raw shellfish such as oysters received the second-highest hazard rating for all foods. They could filter and accumulate viruses to hazardous levels.

Conditions at the proposed Kaipara site suggested it would gain the approved classification under the authority's quality assurance programme.

This meant the area could be harvested all year round without restrictions. When the hearing continues today, the company faces opposition to its plans from submitters, including the Guardians of the Kaipara Harbour and the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society.

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