THE world is their oyster for a Bowen couple, who are successfully operating the first commercial oyster farm in Northern Australia.
John and Annette Collison are on their way to establishing a viable commercial oyster industry in the North after successfully harvesting blacklip oysters from their lease in the waters between Bowen and Abbot Point.
Their success has sparked excitement in Northern Australia, with interest coming from others interested in establishing an industry from as far afield as Karratha and Darwin.
The couple moved to Bowen in 2013 to “retire” and set up their lease for Bowen Fresh Oysters in 2014. They farm two varieties of oysters, blacklips and milkys, which are native to the area.
With over 30 years of oyster farming under his belt in southern NSW, Mr Collison was the man to make it happen in the North.
“I had to put in a management plan with the government, but I’ve got 32 years down south growing oysters, and I grew two species, Sydney Rock and Pacifics.”
Once the lease was approved, Mr Collison go to work and the rewards are starting to pay off.
“We're the only ones cultivating them (blacklips) in Australia really,” Mr Collison said.
“They’re a really sweet oyster, the fatter they are the sweeter they are.
“We're in the Barrier Reef and the oysters are about two kilometres through the mangroves.
“Instead of being on rocks you don’t have to wash off the mud, they are out in the wild, in the middle of the flow… everyone is raving about them.”
The blacklips take about 20 months to two and a half year to mature and they sold their first batch in 2016.
“Cyclone Debbie set us back a bit, it didn't put us off but it wrecked our catching gear and we lost stuff, so it took a while to repair it all and get it back so that puts you back with sales,” Mr Collison said.
They harvested about 1000 dozen oysters during last year’s season from June to December, and demand was outweighing supply.
“We never really had enough because we catch milky oysters and black lip oysters and you've got to handle them all, it takes time,” he said.
“But the possibilities are endless, we’ve got Townsville, Rockhampton, Cairns, everyone wants a local oyster.”
Last year the oysters were sold at Arabon Seafood in Bowen and Ingham Road Seafood in Townsville.
They are looking to expand their venture and have purchased a high-tech oyster sorter which scans the oyster and sorts them according to size at a rate of 150 oysters a minute.
The State Government this week said they were looking to expand aquaculture as an industry in Queensland.
The annual Aquaculture Production Summary shows aquaculture production grew by 1.1 per cent to more than 7,869 tonnes in 2016-17, representing a value of $119.7 million.
Agriculture Minister Mark Furner said the industry as a whole had been growing at a rate of 5.2 per cent a year since 1999-2000.
"Queensland aquaculture employs more than 530 full-time equivalent workers and the gross value of production represents 38 per cent of the total state value of fisheries production," he said.
"As a government, we are progressing with the identification and promotion of aquaculture development areas to help grow the industry in a sustainable way."
Central and North Queensland accounts for the majority of the aquaculture industry's value and production.
Prawn farming was the sector's largest employer with more than 292 full-time employees.