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"Drought on land means drought at sea"

Alex Blucher, Tuesday February 25, 2014 - 15:55 EDT
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Oyster grower Andy Baker inspecting his oyster lease on Pambula Lake on the NSW South Coast. - ABC

"When it's a drought on the land, it's a drought at sea," according to south coast oyster grower, Andy Baker.  

Dry conditions are leading to high salinity levels in estuaries on the far south coast, which is causing trouble for oyster farmers in the region.  

Andy Baker grows Sydney Rock oysters at Pambula Lake.

He says there is an infestation of species such as cunji (a kind of sea squirt) on on his racks in the lake. 

"The drier it is the higher the salinity is for longer periods of time, which allow animals like coral, starfish and cunji to move up into areas where the oysters are growing. Those animals gather on your gear and infrastructure and it just creates a lot of extra work," he says. 

The oyster farmer says it's he's never seen this much cunji on his lease infrastructure throughout the 20 years he's been growing the Sydney Rock variety in Pambula Lake. 

"In these dry spells the salinity levels in Pambula Lake would be sitting in the early to mid 30's, in a reading we take that combines the water temperature and the density of the water. (With) the ocean being mid to high 30's and the fresh water being zero, that level is pretty high," he says. 

Like on land farmers, oyster growers also have to be prepared for drought and to de-stock their leases. 

"If it does stay dry, I would be looking at the stocking rates we've got and the amount of oysters I've got on, particularly the older ones. Going into winter time (they) could be stressed by the higher salinity levels and the cold water (so) I'd be looking to offload them ahead of the time," he says.


© ABC 2014

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