In the early 1900’s Pearl King James Clark moved his oyster enterprise from Moreton Bay and the Great Sandy Straits into the Maroochy River when he took out a lease at Bli Bli. This lucrative intertidal lease produced oysters known for their unique flavour and plumpness until the industry declined due to the impact of mudworm and other diseases. The lease, however, continued to be farmed until 2010 by locals Jim Cash and Rob Collins who had inherited it from their grandfathers.
In 2011, Jim and Rob handed the lease to members of the Bunya Bunya Country Aboriginal Corporation whose forebears having Kabi Kabi Aboriginal and South Sea Islander heritage had worked on the lease for decades. Most notable of these oystermen was the late Herb Chilly Snr whose innate knowledge of the habits of marine creatures was legendary.
Herb’s nephew, Kerry Jones, is now leading the revival of the Maroochy oyster lease, thanks to the support of OzFish and Healthy Land and Water through the Regional Landcare Facilitator. Kerry and his family are passionate fishers with a deep connection to the Maroochy River where their families have lived, worked and played for centuries, as evidenced by the extensive shell middens beside the oyster lease.
“Shellfish were a principal source of food and carry our culture,” Kerry said. “You can see all these middens that tell the story, which is not just about a rubbish dump but well placed lines of shell over centuries for shoreline protection.”
As we wade out to the oyster lease through knee-deep mud, Jim explains what we all know to be true, how the oysters attract a host of marine life around them, and harvesting the bags that hang in the intertidal zone below the barnacle line requires firstly shaking prawns and fish out.
It is for this reason that Kerry and his family are keen to revive the oyster lease.
“We know these shellfish are good for fish habitat,” Kerry said.” So growing them here again combined with our work in the mangroves and saltmarsh beside us here has got to be a good thing for the river, hasn’t it?”
“That’s the next thing we’ll have to do is clean the weeds up in the saltmarsh there and try and work out why the orange mangroves are dying,” Kerry said. “It’s all looking a bit sick at the moment but we’ll work on it together. There’s still good fish here but it needs help and we’re all pretty excited about it.”
The first stage of the project is to gather expert advice, source and install bags and establish the monitoring program.
OzFish Unlimited is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to helping the millions of Aussie recreational fishers take control of the health of their rivers, lakes and estuaries and shore up the future of the sport they love. OzFish Unlimited partners with fishers and the broader community to invest time and money into the protection and restoration of our waterways, counteracting decades of degradation.
The Regional Landcare Facilitator Programme is supported through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme and delivered in South East Queensland through Healthy Land and Water.