Oyster quality beyond expectations as season starts

Oyster season set sail this week with more than enough reason to cheer, as the quality of the shellfish defied expectations.

The first oyster boats departed Bluff throughout Monday night for Foveaux Strait, and began returning about noon yesterday with full crates of weighty shellfish.

Marina Fish and Oysters owner and skipper of Southern Enterprise Greg Mead returned to South Port about 11am.

"The oysters are in far better condition than they have been for the last couple of years ...

"Catch rate was on par with last year but the quality was far better, so hopefully it carries on," he said.

"I think we did a wee bit better than I thought."

He said the weather was perfect - "you wouldn’t get any better."

Longtime oysterman Willie Calder was in the strait from 3am on his boat Argosy and said the size of the oysters was far better than the previous seasons.

"They’ve obviously got a lot more to eat down there this year."

He said the presence of muttonbirds on the water indicated the oysters were fattening up, and there were far more birds at sea compared with last year.

Mr Calder said pristine conditions ushered in the 2023 season.

"It’s just like glass out here. Beautiful."

Bluff oyster man Keith Lovett (74) tucks into one of the first oysters of the season after...
Bluff oyster man Keith Lovett (74) tucks into one of the first oysters of the season after returning to the wharf on oyster boat Southern Enterprise. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Barnes Oysters manager Graeme Wright said the 2022 season had the worst-quality oysters he had seen in 26 years of the industry, and prior to a pre-season survey, there was not much evidence that 2023 would be any different.

While he had heard rumours the quality was better this year, he would wait until the delicacies arrived in his factory to have an idea, he said.

Mr Wright said the factory decided to process its first batch only a day after the start of the season, but he had already had hundreds of calls asking for oysters.

It was expected 3500-4000 oysters would be processed during the day.

"People from all over the country are calling and I’ve had people already knocking on our door asking for them.

"People love it - they are very passionate," he said.

The total allowable commercial catch for Foveaux Strait was set at 14.95 million oysters, but as a conservative approach over recent years, the industry had been what they called "shelving" — a process where the industry agreed to catch a lesser limit, he said.

"We will start with 7.5 million oysters and then we see how it goes."

The season ends on August 31.