SI oyster farmer alleges cover-up

Published date24 March 2022
Publication titleSouthland Express
The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) made the decision to remove all farmed oysters from the bay in 2017, after Bonamia ostreae was detected on oyster farms in the area

The invasive parasite kills oysters.

Since then, the ministry has been carrying out monitoring testing on wild oysters from the bay, and a technical advisory group and the Bonamia programme advisory group stated returning to flat oyster farming in Big Glory Bay would pose an unacceptable risk to the Bluff oyster fishery.

However, oyster farmer Richard Langdon was frustrated, and believed the ministry was not being truthful.

He believed it was ‘‘targeting’’ independent marine farmers and wanted to put an end to flat oyster farming on Stewart Island, he said.

‘‘We don’t want to be forced out from the last [flat] oyster farm in New Zealand. If it closes, you will never get a permit for another one — ever.

‘‘We tried to but were never part of their consultations. The big quota owners from Bluff took over the industry and excluded everybody else.’’

Since 2017, Mr Langdon had farmed in Horseshoe Bay, doing his own research and investing more than $500,000.

However, he had had enough and wanted to take his chances and return to Big Glory Bay.

He acknowledged it was a complex issue but said several incidents highlighted why he could not trust the ministry.

He claimed the ministry found the parasite in 2016 in Big Glory Bay but ‘‘covered it up’’.

The August 2016 report, Monitoring Bonamia ostreae in dredge oysters, stated that Niwa found six oysters with the disease — one in the Big Glory Bay area.

However, MPI stated it was ‘‘confident this result was a false positive due to cross-contamination’’, he said.

‘‘The sample we’re talking about is a full year before MPI found Bonamia ostreae in 2017 and farmers had lost any chance they had to react.’’

Mr Langdon then filed two requests under the Official Information Act about B. ostreae being found in Big Glory Bay, and both responses denied the parasite had been found there.

An idea of getting independent testing done, which he would pay for himself, met a dead end as there were only two bodies accredited to do it — Niwa and MPI.

He said the problem was highlighted when MPI established a technical group in 2019 to look at whether flat oyster farming posed a risk to wild oyster populations.

Mr Langdon said he met some scientists in this group who told him that they never heard about any positive or false positive in the area before 2017.


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