Hands off my oysters
OYSTER farmer Ron Guinea is aware he and his mates are developing a vigilante mentality.
Having lost almost $5000 worth of oysters and netting gear to thieves in recent weeks, the dedicated estuary man has had enough.
Weekafter week, Mr Guinea and two other Wooli-based oyster farmers have putup with poachers taking an estimated 400 dozen oysters. In their wakethe thieves have cut ropes, nets and other gear.
“This time ofyear we always lose a few to poachers, but by the quantity they’retaking this year it looks like they’re selling them,” Mr Guinea, whohas been farming the treasured shellfish at Wooli for seven years, said.
“They’re cutting ropes and standing on trays and busting sticks – they’ve got no respect.
“Bythe time you take into account the cost of repairs, the hours involved,the stock and the heartache, it’s thousands of dollars worth.
“It takes three years to grow a bloody oyster.”
MrGuinea said oyster farming is labour-intensive because the trays arecollected and each oyster is graded and moved about four times a yearuntil they are ready for harvest at the end of the third year.
Hesaid he had spoken to police, NSW Marine Parks Authority (who managethe estuary), NSW Fisheries and the general community to keep a closeeye on the oyster leases in a bid to bring the poachers to justice.
“Youknow people come here to have a lovely holiday and now everyone isbeing targeted as suspects ... but we don’t want this – we rely on thetourists.”
Mr Guinea, who was one of three people who lost anoutboard motor to thieves in September, said pilferers were threateninghis lifestyle.
“You don’t make a million dollars being an oysterfarmer,” he said. “It’s a lifestyle thing and they’re trying to take itaway from me.
“It’s such a good friendly community and thetrouble is we’re so friendly that you get people coming along andabusing the good nature.”
Mr Guinea said he was looking at various technologies, including cameras and infrared beacons, to nab the poachers.
“It’s no holds barred now – I’d sooner spend the money to catch these bastards than put up with this anymore.
“We are going all out and we also have a full-on community watch.”
The newly-stationed Wooli policeman, Matt Hegarty, said he was working on a strategy to help the Wooli oyster farmers.
Senior Constable Hegarty said his number one aim in the matter was to stop thefarmers losing money by increasing the presence and visibility ofpolice in the area.
He said ideally he would catch the crooks inthe act and bring them before the courts. To that end he encouragedfarmers to increase their security measures with cameras and alarms.
“Police are following leads on the matter,” he said.