The oyster industry in South Australia started not long after the colony was first established, when native oysters were dredged from various bays around the state and shipped to Adelaide to be kept in beds adjacent to hotels, and then sold to the public.
Oysters for a Shilling and Sixpence
In 1849 the price in Adelaide for a dozen Coffin Bay oysters was one shilling and sixpence. By 1870 thirty sailing vessels were dredging for native oysters in the Coffin Bay area. However, over-fishing caused a decline in catches and by 1890 the fishery had all but ceased.
Following the demise of the oyster fishery, attempts were made to farm the native Angasi oyster, but because of its slow growth and high mortality it was decided in 1937 to attempt to grow Sydney rock oysters. However this was unsuccessful.
In 1969 Pacific oysters were trialled with spat coming from Tasmania and Japan. It was due to the success of that trial and subsequent trials, that the current industry started.
Oyster farms located in Mount Dutton and Kellidie Bays are used mostly as nursery sites where only small oysters are grown on them. The majority of the leases are situated 15 kilometres from the town of Coffin Bay on the sand banks south east of Point Longnose, in the waters of Port Douglas. Up to 40 oyster boats can be seen plying the waterways each day with approximately 100 people being employed either on the leases or on shore in the sorting sheds.
Lifecycle of a Typical Coffin Bay Oyster
Oysters start their lives in hatcheries and oyster farmers buy their spat from those hatcheries. Each oyster at this stage is four to six millimetres long and a million seeds only weigh 20kg. In a good year, this seed can increase to weigh 100 tonnes. The oysters are graded on shore every two to four months depending on the season. Oysters generally reach market size around 18 months of age.
Most Coffin Bay oysters are sold interstate, with Sydney and Melbourne being the most popular markets. Due to the demand for Coffin Bay oysters, some oysters from other growing regions of the State are transported to fattening leases at Point Longnose for up to three months prior to being sold.
Coffin Bay Oysters: A World-Class Seafood Product
Our Coffin Bay oysters, being world class, are highly sought after with overseas export markets becoming increasingly more important as farmers receive a much higher price if their oysters are exported there.
The native Angasi oyster is now making a come back in Coffin Bay as farmers explore and trial growing the original oyster, that were sadly dredged to near extinction. Market research is showing promising indications for overseas exports of this native oyster in the future, returning history to the Bay.
For more information, contact the Coffin Bay Tourist Assocation