NSW Farmers is calling for fee waivers for oyster farmers in NSW, who are reeling from the impacts of the devastating summer bushfires and COVID-19 restrictions.
The closure of restaurants and the near shut down of the tourism industry in a bid to contain the virus have led to a significant downturn in oyster demand, with the hospitality sector normally accounting for around 70 per cent of sales.
NSW Farmers Oyster Committee chair Caroline Henry says that despite these challenges, oyster growers are still face ongoing fees, charges and levies administered by the Department of Primary Industries – Fisheries, the NSW Food Authority, and NSW Crown Lands.
“Payments like leases and licences, aquaculture permits, seafood licences, and research levies should be waived until the industry is able to recover from the impacts of coronavirus and bushfires,” says Ms Henry.
“Both South Australia and Tasmania have had this type of fee relief in place for over a month. NSW growers are still paying their fees whilst also coming to terms with some of the longer term impacts of the summer bushfires”
“We are hearing more reports of stock mortalities caused by increased ash and debris in estuaries. Heavy rain has exacerbated this problem in northern NSW and we’re expecting to see it down south as well.”
“A lot of us have lost key markets with the tourism and hospitality industries effectively closed due to coronavirus restrictions. And this has coincided with the all-important Easter period, where our sales normally jump.”
Ms Henry says that like other commodities, the oyster industry would benefit from more flexible or tailored government assistance schemes to ride out the double impact of bushfires and coronavirus.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the NSW and Commonwealth Governments’ assistance schemes are unusable for oyster farmers, and the fee relief that we really need just isn’t happening.”
“Losses due to stock mortalities can’t be recouped through the NSW bushfire relief grants. And we need business support beyond employment incentives.”
“What we really need is assistance to restock, flexibility with loan payments and relief from fees. This will help us press pause until the hospitality and tourism industries can reopen.”