Aquaculture news

Jacquie Reed with Don Collier and the Pacific Marine Farms team at Cawthron Aquaculture Park
11 December 2013

Oyster virus research boost

A new purpose-built laboratory at Cawthron Aquaculture Park near Nelson, has further boosted a long-term research programme to breed healthy oysters resilient to a virus that devastated New Zealand's oyster industry in 2010.

Scientists at Cawthron Institute, together with industry partners, have been working towards breeding Pacific oysters resilient to the ostreid herpes virus (OsHV-1) since it hit New Zealand, almost wiping out the country's Pacific oyster stocks.

"This year we've boosted our existing facilities to include a laboratory dedicated solely to researching and producing virus-free oysters," Cawthron's Cultured Shellfish Programme Leader Nick King says.

"This facility will allow our team of scientists working on the programme to have a dedicated space for investigating both survival and growth of our oyster families, so we can identify the best performers to make available for industry for production in 2015."

New Zealand Oyster Industry Association President, Jim Dollimore of BioMarine Ltd, says the industry greatly appreciates Cawthron's support and efforts.

"When the crisis first hit Cawthron immediately took big steps to resolve the issue for the breeding programme that they had been involved in with industry for about a decade," Mr Dollimore says.

"They took a pro-active stance and committed whatever time and investment was necessary to save the programme and help the industry survive the crisis. This saved several growing cycles which was extremely important to an industry faced with large loss of production."

Cawthron Aquaculture Group Manager, Dr Jacquie Reed, says supporting the New Zealand oyster industry's aim of $100 million in exports by 2025 is a major focus for Cawthron and "we see the next two to five years being a key focus on Pacific oysters to help them achieve that goal".

"This is a world-wide problem and it's a race against time to rebuild the oyster industry internationally. Ours is a long-term breeding programme and there are no quick-fixes, but we are putting every effort in to help our oyster industry get back to full production."

When the virus hit it caused significant losses in the wild caught spat the industry heavily relied on for its marine farm stocks. The crisis led to job losses, factory closures and saw an overall drop in production of 50 to 60 percent, with some individual farmers hit significantly harder.

Cawthron's oyster research is carried out in collaboration with industry partners including Pacific Marine Farms - a subsidiary of Aotearoa Fisheries Limited, and Te Matuku Bay Oysters, who together manage the bulk of the on-farm trials.

"The combination of the high-level research and scientific expertise residing at Cawthron, and the pragmatic farming and product knowledge brought by the Pacific oyster industry, has enabled a good start in the journey towards breeding and growing an oyster with a significant degree of resilience to the virus," Pacific Marine Farms General Manager, Don Collier, says.

"We are hopeful that by the end of 2014 some concrete progress towards that objective will become apparent. Both Cawthron and its industry partners have committed whole heartedly to the journey with the new laboratory investment being the latest example of that."

Nick King says the second generation of healthy oysters from the breeding programme will be dispatched on to farms in the Northland area in the New Year, "and we'll be measuring their success throughout 2014".

"Our ultimate goal is to find the best families that can survive and grow during the shoulder seasons when the virus is most active. We're hoping by the end of 2014 to have identified even more resilient families than we have right now, it's all about compounding those good, healthy traits so eventually we end up with virus resilient oysters."

This research is part of an oyster industry modernisation project, coordinated by the NZOIA and Aquaculture New Zealand, and made possible with significant government investment through the Sustainable Farming Fund.

For more information please contact Nick King.

See earlier news story: Research delivers encourgaging signs for oyster industry

Watch the Rural Delivery documentary in the research section of of our website: Beating the oyster virus