Oyster health on the menu for DPI research grant

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By Milthon Lujan

Australia.- Researchers from the NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSWDPI) are working with scientists from some of Australia’s leading universities in a bid to forecast the potential for disease outbreaks in high value oyster farms.

Dr Cheryl Jenkins, NSWDPI Principal Research Scientist, said theAustralian Research Council Linkage funding brings together scientists and the NSW Department of Primary Industries in a $1 million funding boost to investigate the causes of oyster disease outbreaks in NSW.

“Oyster farming is a huge contributor to the Australian aquaculture industry, representing 30 per cent of all seafood production and worth approximately $100 million to the country’s economy each year, $42 million in NSW alone,” Dr Jenkins said.

“However, the fragile nature of these molluscs means they’re more susceptible to unpredictable and often devastating disease outbreaks.

“NSW has been affected by a number of major disease events in the past, QX disease in Sydney rock oysters in the Hawkesbury in 1994 and again in 2004, and Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome (POMS) in a number of Sydney estuaries in 2010 and 2013.
Both diseases caused massive stock losses.

“Our research is aimed at investigating the catalysts for disease outbreaks that have the potential to threaten livelihoods in these predominantly family-owned industries.

“It remains unclear as to what conditions lead to oyster disease, however environmental stressors such as rainfall, high temperatures and algal blooms are key catalysts. As such, oysters are a valuable environmental indicator, sometimes referred to as the canary of the estuary. Monitoring wild and cultivated oysters can reveal environmental damage before it is otherwise apparent.”

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Dr Jenkins is working alongside NSWDPI oyster biologist Dr Wayne O’Connor, Associate Professor Justin Seymour and Dr Maurizio Labbatefrom the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), and microbial ecologist Dr Mark Brown from the University of NSW (UNSW) to collaborate to identify the main ecological drivers of NSW oyster disease outbreaks.

“We will be using new tools to highlight connections in the data for a better understanding of the relationships between oysters, disease and the environment,” Dr Jenkins said.

Pacific oysters, the dominant species harvested in Australia and highly susceptible to Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome (POMS), will be placed in the Georges River, where oyster disease events have repeatedly occurred, and in Port Stephens, which has remained POMS-free. By taking advantage of our existing NSW DPI research activities, the project will measure temporal patterns in the two estuaries.

“This research will allow NSW DPI to inform growers when and why diseases are likely to occur and to use this information to provide advice on how to better manage stocks to avoid disease outbreaks. We hope this research will safeguard the future of a primary industry that is the cornerstone of many coastal communities,” Dr Jenkins said.

NSW is a popular location for oyster farming, with approximately 3200 aquaculture leases located in 41 estuaries between Eden in the south to the Tweed River in the north, with Wallis Lake and Port Stephens the main producing areas.

The project was awarded $570,000 of ARC funding over three years, together with almost $430,000 from the Australian Centre for Genomic Epidemiological Microbiology (Ausgem), a partnership between the NSW DPI Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute and the ithree institute at the University of Technology Sydney.

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Source: NSW

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