PAIRING experience with innovation, the Tasmanian Oyster Company is utilising pristine waters off the state to grow oysters that are 95 per cent resistant to the Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome.
Operating at several coastal and inland sites throughout Tasmania, the company is in the business of cultivating, growing and selling oysters to domestic and international markets.
The company’s journey started under a different name, born in Lenah Valley in 1979 under the name Shellfish Culture. It quickly established a hatchery in Bicheno and their first spat (juvenile oysters) within a year. Fast forward four decades and Shellfish Culture has sold more than 100 million spat to international buyers, established farms across the state and extended their interest into the sale and growth of scallops, mussels and abalone.
Recently, Shellfish Culture made the transition into the Tasmanian Oyster Company, bringing several farms into the main business, most recently Bolduans Bay Oysters in Smithton and Estuarine Oyster Company in Cambridge. At its core, though, the 40-year-old company remains loyal to its history, even keeping its hatchery operation under the old name. It is at the Shellfish Culture hatchery site in Pipeclay Lagoon that the journey starts for the TOC oysters.
Breeding is methodical, from their eggs to larvae to juvenile spat, their hatched oysters are bred to grow and survive challenges of climate and disease, and 95 per cent resistance to Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome, something that devastated the industry less than a decade ago. After the breeding cycle is completed, the juvenile spat is transported to the nursery site in Little Swanport, the nutrient rich waters of the estuary an ideal sheltered spot for the oysters to mature, or to Smithton at the Duck Bay site, where they spend their next two years growing. When they reach the desired size, the Little Swanport oysters return to Pipeclay Lagoon for second stage nursing, then are moved to Pittwater and finally to the finishing farms in Marion Bay, by now having spent 1824 months maturing and growing.
Housed in screened cages under the surface, the oysters are given ample room to be tossed about and grow, as the impacts on the shell put the oyster into a ‘survival mode’. A threatened oyster will build out its body, concentrating its energy on growing the meat rather than the shell, something acting CEO Patrick Taskunas calls an “old wives tale”, but it is just one of the many tricks learnt across their years in the industry.
“We farm at a lower density per tube, it’s a part of our identity that we want to get the most out of each oyster,” Mr Taskunas said. The multi-bay, multiregional approach taken by TOC not only allows the oysters’ development to continue when conditions aren’t favourable, but also dictates the flavour of the meat. Tarkine Fresh Oysters from the Duck Bay site are stocked with spat to produce a creamier oyster, while crispier, sweeter oysters can be grown at the Marion Bay site.
Despite oysters being predominantly summer food in Australia and the obvious COVID19 downturn, TOC still shift 15,000 dozen oysters per week, and their growth is evident, having brought in more than 20 new workers since new farm additions last year. Before the COVID downturn, TOC supplied approximately 30-40 per cent of Tasmania’s oyster production, over 1.5 million per year to the domestic and international markets.
Now the infrastructure is in place, the market is rebuilding, and the demand is growing again, Mr Taskunas and TOC are looking to new markets, regeneration and additional uses for their oysters.