Stewart Island marine farmers are backing a plan to lift thousands of tonnes of contaminated oysters - in return for millions of dollars of compensation - to protect the Bluff oyster industry, the Ministry for Primary Industries says.
The endorsement came as MPI officials, including ministry readiness and response director Geoff Gwyn, met Stewart Island oysters farmers in a series of emotionally-charged meetings in Bluff yesterday.
MPI announced on Friday it would require the farmers to lift oysters at Stewart Island's Big Glory Bay, following the discovery of the Bonamia ostreae parasite, to prevent its spread to Bluff's wild beds.
Mr Gwyn, speaking after yesterday's meetings, said it had been ''a very emotionally difficult day'' for the farmers and MPI staff.
''This is one of the hardest decisions we've been involved in, and this is when you see, up close and personal, the impacts of your decisions on people's livelihoods.
''I take my hat off to the farmers. They understand why we're doing this and they're working constructively with us to meet the requirements of the notice of direction,'' he said.
Mr Gwyn said five of the island's six oyster farmers had met MPI officials yesterday and all were on board with the plan.
That was despite having invested ''many, many years of blood, sweat and tears'' into their farms, he said.
''It's not something to take lightly, but I think they do get the rationale for why we're doing this.''
They were ''incredibly optimistic'', and some even hoped the industry could bounce back in time - although, if it did, it was likely to be many years down the track, he said.
''I don't think there's a short-term future here for this industry, but there is always the possibility or potential for breeding disease-resistant strains.''
In the meantime, MPI planned to finalise plans for the removal of the contaminated oysters by the end of this week, and begin the operation to remove them early next week, he said.
The timeframe to complete the work was not yet known, as it represented a ''significant logistical challenge'' involving ''thousands of tonnes'' of oysters.
That challenge would be amplified by Stewart Island's isolation and the weather, and the need to avoid doing ''more harm than good'', he said.
''Everything we do is going to be by sea, and clearly Foveaux Strait is a rather rough piece of water on a bad day.''
The aim was to preserve the mussels, in some cases mixed with oysters on the same lines, but that would decided on a case-by-case basis, he said.
The details of the farmers' compensation package were still being discussed, but it would cover any verifiable direct loss incurred by farmers as a result of MPI decisions, he said.
The total bill was not yet known, but ''I think it's safe to say it's in the millions [of dollars]'', he said.
He hoped to meet other key industry figures in Bluff tomorrow, including Graeme Wright, of the Bluff Oyster Management Company.
Mr Wright said the industry had a ''huge job'' ahead of it, dealing with the parasite's threat, but Bluff's industry wanted to help where it could.
''It has to be thought about and planned. It just doesn't happen overnight, and it's quite a remote part of the world down there.
''To me we've got to be proactive now and make the best of a bad situation, and hopefully get the outcome that's the right one for the fishery.''