The Clyde River is a very special aquatic environment and has been producing top quality oysters for many decades. Its catchment is almost all forestry land or National Park, attributes that make for exceptionally clean water for the 20 local oyster farmers.
Kevin McAsh and his son Ewan made the big decision to get into aquaculture in 2004. Ewan had recently finished a marine science degree and was keen to put his learning into practice. When they purchased their 22 hectare lease, it was still using the traditional “stick and tray” method of cultivation.
Anyone who has the idea of an oyster farmer putting his oyster stakes in the water for the oyster spat to settle on, then lazily harvesting them a couple of years later would be as amazed as we were to see the mix of high tech growing and grading along with frequent handling and sorting of the oysters as they grow. It is a very labour intensive business.
McAsh Oysters have their oyster shed on Budd Island, less than 1km west of the Batemans Bay bridge. It forms part of an “oyster village”, which includes Lattas Point, and is a scene of constant activity.
The baskets are graded and moved to various locations on the Clyde River depending on their growth stage. One of the great benefits of the floating basket growing system is the increased amount of sunlight that is able to reach to sea bed compared with the old tray system. This is resulting in the regeneration of seagrass beds – an important ecological niche for many fish species. The baskets are also easier to handle than the trays which required a crane on the oyster barge.
Kevin demonstrated this from the oyster barge by unclipping a few baskets from the mooring line to show us. First, we saw Sydney Rock Oysters almost ready for harvest – clean and well formed. Next we saw the almost forgotten Angasi or Southern Mud Oyster, a flat oyster that in its native state is found in the mud layer of estuaries. The final basket had some Pacific Oysters the size of Kevin’s palm. They are fast growing and it is possible to get 2 crops of Pacific Oysters for every single crop of Sydney Rock. The variety grown does not spawn which ensures that this potentially invasive exotic does not get into our waterways.
As well as changing the growing methods, Kevin and Ewan invested in the latest mechanical aids for cleaning, sorting and grading the oysters. This facility is in great demand from oyster growers right along the coast, as it enables speedy, efficient grading to recognised standards and gives them a better rate of return.
One advantage of the Clyde River for aquaculture is that it is less susceptible to long closures due to rain events. This means that it is easier to ensure a steady supply and that Kevin will have stock to sell at the SAGE Farmers Market. Kevin says the market provides a welcome income stream, but mostly he enjoys the opportunity to talk to people about the benefits of local aquaculture and oysters. He is also a passionate advocate of freshly shucked oysters and enjoys demonstrating the easy way to open them.