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Oyster season to open next week at existing limits

Bluff oyster season to open next week at existing limits

The Bluff oyster season will begin on March 26 and run till 31 August, with no change to existing catch levels, Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton announced today.

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The total allowable commercial catch is just under 15 million oysters. However, commercial fishers have agreed to catch half this quantity in each of the past two seasons because of the Bonamia parasite.

This season it is also expected around 7.5 million oysters will be landed.

"Projections from the stock assessment model indicate current catch levels are unlikely to have any significant impact on stock. The Bonamia parasite has more of an influence, and given it was absent from much of the fishery in the February survey, it looks like the fishery should continue to build," Mr Anderton said.

Bonamia is an endemic disease that has probably always been in the oyster fishery. It was responsible for serious declines in 1962 and 1987 and most recently from 2000 to 2003, when it is estimated to have killed a billion oysters.

"Surveys are carried out every year. For the last three years the prevalence of Bonamia has been low, indicating the latest disease event has waned. There are large numbers of young oysters in the fishery, so provided Bonamia stays away, things are looking good for the future.

"That's not to say there won't be challenges. Efforts to understand Bonamia continue with a view to controlling it, and we need to increase the survival rate of small oysters to marketable size. We also need to better understand the impact of using dredges in Foveaux Strait".

Mr Anderton said that with these issues in mind, the Ministry of Fisheries had brought together commercial, recreational and customary fishing representatives, oyster scientists, environmental groups, fisheries officers and managers to collectively address the issues, and improve the fishery for everyone.

The Ministry-led group is drafting a fishery plan to further improve the oyster fishery, Mr Anderton said. The plan will be ready for wider consultation later this year.

ENDS

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