Farmers Fight Back Against Oyster Rustlers

By Hari Yellina
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Although oysters are unlikely to be on most criminals’ hit lists, some farmers are losing thousands of dollars each year to marine crime. While each theft was tiny, oyster farmer Paul Wilson told AAP that he had likely lost tens of thousands of dollars over the course of his 45 years in the sector. Mr Wilson, who farms the Hastings River in the NSW town of Port Macquarie, said, “Every dollar matters… not only are we losing our oysters, but we’re also losing the infrastructure that carries them as well.” “Growing an oyster for sale is a three-year undertaking, so it’s a long period and a lot of money invested in that stock.”

Although oysters are unlikely to be on most criminals’ hit lists, some farmers are losing thousands of dollars each year to marine crime. While each theft was tiny, oyster farmer Paul Wilson told AAP that he had likely lost tens of thousands of dollars over the course of his 45 years in the sector. Mr Wilson, who farms the Hastings River in the NSW town of Port Macquarie, said, “Every dollar matters… not only are we losing our oysters, but we’re also losing the infrastructure that carries them as well.”

The Rural Crime Prevention Team of NSW Police is focusing on black market oysters that have been taken from farmers and marketed without proper food safety procedures. Acting Detective Sergeant Travis Ware stated, “We need farmers to report the crime.” “While we may not always be able to retrieve the stolen item, the information you provide may be the missing piece of a larger puzzle we’ve been investigating.” Damage to oyster leases is also a major issue for growers, according to the industry organisation NSW Farmers.

Caroline Henry, who has been farming Sydney Rock Oysters for more than 30 years at Wonboyn Lake in southern NSW, said boat users sometimes assumed that removing a few oysters wouldn’t be a problem. “If everyone took a dozen oysters off someone’s lease, the oyster farmer would be out of business,” she explained. “It’s not just the stealing of oysters; it’s also the destruction of the oyster infrastructure.” Caju Barbosa, who grows oysters in roughly 70 hectares of water in Port Stephens, NSW, stated that surveillance cameras were helping to prevent theft. He told AAP that thieves were also potentially contaminating rivers with stolen oysters. “Thieves steal 20 dozen here and 30 dozen there and put them in the water so they can sell them as a big number all at once, and they can bring a disease to an estuary that it didn’t have.”


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