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Farmers Calling on Aussies and Restaurateurs to Help Save the Sydney Rock Oyster

  • Written by Weekend Times

The future of Sydney Rock Oyster farming in NSW is under extreme threat and a group of NSW farmers are urging restaurateurs and chefs to support the native Australian Sydney Rock Oyster before Australia loses it for good. 

The situation is so bad, that a third of this year’s entire Sydney Rock Oyster harvest has been destroyed.  Some farmers have lost 100% of their stock. Many have closed up shop, never to return. 

Third generation Oyster farmer, Brad Verdich said: “Due to extreme weather, flooding events and the QX virus, a third of this year’s Sydney Rock Oyster harvest, or about 20 million oysters, have been destroyed. The already scarce species are now rarer than ever.” 

To help the industry, the farmgate purchase price has been increased, on average, from $0.60 to $1 per oyster and other third-party buyers are being urged to follow suit. If hospitality venues raise their prices in line with the farmgate price, the farmers would like to see the full increase passed directly onto farmers industry wide. 

“Similar to how consumers and retailers got behind dairy farmers back in 2016 with the milk crisis, we’d like to see that level of support for the Sydney Rock Oyster industry. In Port Stephens particularly, the few that remain are now having to look to alternative methods and species or take up second jobs to make ends meet”, said Verdich. 

And the message to consumers is to rally behind the industry - farmers need you to keep buying and savoring Sydney Rock Oysters, and to appreciate just how special they are. 

The Sydney Rock Oyster is an extremely rare native Australian species, making up less than 1% of all commercially produced oysters worldwide. Globally, only one in every 36,000 oysters is a Sydney Rock. 

Farmers are also calling upon Australian restaurateurs and chefs to make a clear differentiation between Sydney Rock Oysters and the more common and introduced Pacific Oyster on their menus, in both price and labeling, to celebrate this local delicacy. 

“It takes about three years to cultivate a Sydney Rock to maturity, and around 12 to 18 months for a Pacific. It’s not unusual for upmarket restaurants to sell oysters for around $6 each, and they’re often just listed as ‘Oysters’ on the menu, regardless of whether they’re Sydney Rock or Pacific Oysters, and we’d like to see that change,” Verdich said. 

Unfortunately, Australia is at high risk of losing the Sydney Rock Oyster industry altogether since this particular species of oyster is very fussy about its environment and only thrives along the New South Wales coast between Nambucca and Merimbula and is sensitive to extreme weather conditions. 

In the 1970s, the Sydney Rock Oyster industry produced around 190 million oysters.  In 2020/21 production was around 65 million.  That steady decline in production is due to a number of factors including extreme weather events, rising water temperatures, disease and the introduction of Pacific Oysters in the 1980s.   

Brad Verdich continued, “We absolutely need to act now to save our Sydney Rocks. Some of these farmers are fifth generation farmers, whose families and livelihoods are completely built on growing and cultivating these oysters. They should be acknowledged as the rare delicacy that they are on all menus across Australia. 

“It takes about three years to cultivate a Sydney Rock to maturity, and around 18 months for a Pacific, meaning this year’s losses will be felt for years to come.  Even longer if the Port Stephens farming region isn’t able to recover”.

For more information on East 33 and the Sydney Rock Oyster, visit https://east33.sydney/