The long-term plan of Tasmanian oyster company Shellfish Culture to become one of the largest oyster farms in Australia has been shelved due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Shellfish Culture, which in 1979 became the first oyster hatchery in the southern hemisphere, currently grows oysters in 120 hectares of water, representing 20 per cent of Tasmania’s oyster production.
It is currently developing new and innovative technology, through its brand Tasmanian Oyster Co, to laser-etch its oysters with brand logos for country of origin trace-ability, and to also expand its export potential.
Shellfish Culture managing director James Calvert said it bought five Tasmanian oyster farms in 2019 and had plans to acquire another two, including one at Smithton and one at Pittwater, but these latter purchases are now on hold.
“We are are currently at 20 per cent of the Tasmanian [oyster] production. We were hoping with the two acquisitions that would have taken us up to 35 per cent of Tasmania’s productions,” he said.
“It is not about expansion rather consolidation, about maximising what water is available and consolidating that into a multiple bay strategy so we can gain efficiently using our best quality water.
“The long term plan is to eventually expand our national footprint…it is still our long term strategy but has basically been put on hold. Covid has obviously just stuffed everything. We couldn’t proceed with that transaction until we understand the impact of Covid, and we can’t revisit it until we know what the other side looks like, whenever the other side gets here.”
Mr Calvert said the oyster industry, like many other seafood sectors, has been hit hard by the pandemic.
Supply chains were disrupted and sales stopped, but the oysters kept growing.
“Oysters don’t die, they keep growing, you still require a labor force to look after your fish. They get bigger and that takes more management, so our costs are increasing and our market isn’t there yet,” he said.
“Seventy-five per cent of our product was consumed by the hospitality industry – pubs, clubs, casinos – and obviously with those closures the supply chain was decimated. Sales went down to zero when the lock down happened … the second Victorian lock down has been another setback as we were starting to pick up.
“We have recovered to about 50 per cent of where we want to be. We are still selling some product into Asia, but again it is about 50 per cent of where we would like to be.”
“Everyone in the seafood sector is thinking ‘lets get through to Christmas’ and then have a look at what the situation is.”