Red Tide: Oyster Farmers Count Costs

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By Charles Tjatindi

SWAKOPMUND

Local oyster farmers who have been dealt a huge blow in production following the loss of over 10 million oysters in the past weeks due to a red tide are seemingly not giving up on restoring their industry.

The farmers met behind closed doors last week for an intense discussion that attempted to identify workable strategies that would rescue the industry.

Weeks of a persistent algae bloom that is responsible for the feared red tide resulted in more than 75 percent damage to oyster production for the country’s oyster sector, prompting stakeholders to look at new ways of handling the crisis.

The aquaculture farmers and other industry players went into the recent meeting with high hopes. The meeting, according to sources present, concluded that the industry could still be saved, provided that a few strategies are introduced and strictly adhered to.

Although most farmers remain tightlipped on the details of the meeting noting that it is too early to divulge information, some inside sources New Era spoke to noted that most farmers present at the meeting were in agreement that there are still enough opportunities to restock their farms and recover the losses incurred.

This will however be done with the assistance of researchers, whose duty will be to devise means through which the oyster industry would cope with the red tide condition.

Such research would contain significant information on infrastructure improvement and other variables such as determining correct water temperatures and depth that best suit oyster production during red tide conditions.

According to sources, the meeting proposed adapting oysters to conditions similar to those prevailing during a red tide, such as poor oxygen levels in water. This would be carried out by retrieving the oysters from the water and placing them on land for at least two hours in a 24-hour cycle.

This apparently allows the oysters to adapt to coping with low oxygen supplies at regular intervals when the need arises. Considering the huge losses incurred, oyster farmers raised concerns about the insurance of their products, fearing a repeat of current conditions.

Farmers were also advised to seriously monitor the genetic composition of oysters they farm with to determine which type adapt well to harsh conditions such as those experienced during a red tide.

Meanwhile, Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources officials at Swakopmund released over a ton of lobsters back into the ocean. The lobsters were released back into their natural habitat from the Swakopmund jetty last Thursday. The lobsters were kept at the Swakopmund Aquarium for the last three weeks.

Low oxygen levels in the oceans caused by decaying algae had resulted in tons of rock lobsters, oysters and other smaller fish and marine life to become beached and stranded.

Many people hoping to cash in on the situation flocked to the Swakopmund beach where they filled buckets and other large containers to the brim with the stranded shell fish, prompting the line ministry’s intervention.

People could be spotted at street corners around Swakopmund and to a certain extent Walvis Bay, where they were selling ‘harvested’ lobsters and fish to unsuspecting tourists.

The fisheries ministry reported earlier that they had managed to save close to 12 tons of lobsters from human greed.

Given the time frame of at least seven years that should lapse before lobsters reach legal harvest size, a shortage of this popular delicacy is seemingly looming.

Fisheries officials promised tighter restrictions in future that would prevent looting of stranded and beached marine life.

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