Looking After The Birthplace Of NZ Oyster Farming
Not many people know that commercial oyster farming in New Zealand actually started right here in the Mahurangi Harbour. Jim Dollimore knows. And there aren’t many oyster farmers who’ve been around as long as Jim – he started BioMarine way back in 1978. It’s now one of the biggest employers in the region and delivers over seven million organic oysters to chefs and connoisseurs around the world.
“People have been collecting oysters from these shores since the 1840s,” says Jim. “Originally it was all rock oysters around here. The pacific oysters that we have now actually came over by accident – they hitched a ride on the barges that brought the Auckland Harbour Bridge over from Hiroshima, Japan. They had to tow the bridge pieces very slowly, and the oysters came along for the ride.”
“Soon after that, an Australian oyster farmer was brought over to establish a little oyster hatchery here in the Mahurangi Harbour. Once he was set up, he took it to a whole lot of other places around the country, but here is where it all began.”
The local industry has matured over the years, and now a half-dozen oyster farmers produce more than a million dozen oysters each year. But Jim says steps need to be taken to protect our local waterways.
“We have good water quality here, with microbiological records going back to the 1960s. Protecting the water purity is crucial, because if the water is polluted the oysters will concentrate this.”
“Silt is another big problem. Oysters survive reasonably in silt water, but other plants and marine life struggle which can affect the microalgae, which the oysters eat.”
“Most of the silt comes into the waterways due to poor farming practices and land development. We have damaged a lot of estuaries this way.”
Jim says everyone can do their part to protect their local waterways.
“People can help by being very vigilant of anything that affects water quality, like sewage and poor land use,” he says.
There is already a lot being done, and there are plans for more.
“The Mahurangi Action Plan is a great program that plants trees and flaxes - anything that stops the river bank washing away, reducing silt, and filters out the water running across the paddocks and into the river.”
“Another positive new initiative is the dredging of Mahurangi River. If we can create a big basin at the top of the river, we hope that all the silt will be trapped there and not travel down the harbour and affect the water quality.”
Show your support by buying oysters from a local outlet, like at roadside stalls, the Matakana Farmers Market or at the Oyster & Wine Festival, Matakana.