The farming of Sydney Rock Oysters began in NSW over 120 years ago. The Great Lakes district is famous for the high quality of its oysters and the industry is a major employer in the region.
Oysters are farmed in areas where the natural spatfall is consistently high. The wild larvae were traditionally caught on wooden sticks coated with tar. They remained attached to the stick while they grew. At some point during their 3-4 year life cycle they were generally removed from the sticks and placed on timber trays with mesh bottoms that were placed on timber racks or rafts in the shallows of a tidal waterway. Other techniques and materials such as baskets have also been successfully used to cultivate the oysters.
In recent years, new plastic frames and pipes have been developed to reduce the use of tarred timber. While these natural farming methods are still the most reliable and productive, much research has been put into growing oysters in a lab environment which can be controlled. Recent results have shown the growth cycle can be reduced by as much as 11 months which has strong implications for economic viability.
Oysters are generally graded manually into categories including Plate, Bistro and Bottle grades. The larger Plate grade oysters have slowly decreased in popularity in favour of the smaller grades. This is due both to market demands and also increased production capacity.
The 3 main species grown in Australia are Sydney Rock, Pacific and Natural oysters. Only around 1% of Australian oysters are exported. Instead they are grown primarily to meet regional demands for fresh seafood. Wallis Lake oysters are sold to local buyers first with the excess then taken to the markets in Sydney. The purity of the waters combined with unsurpassed quality control measures ensure that Wallis Lake oysters are consistently sought after by locals and Sydney buyers alike.
Many locals have had their oyster farming leases handed down through several generations. While a number of these licences gradually got bought out by larger companies, these companies are often still owned and run by local residents. In addition to oysters, they also supply prawns, crabs, lobsters and a wide variety of fish. The Wallis Lake Fishermen's Co-Op is owned and operated by local shareholders wanting to keep their profits and produce within the community. This also reduces transport costs. As a result, local eateries receive the best quality seafood at the lowest prices.
As far as healthy foods go, oysters tick all the right boxes as they are packed full of nutrients. A serve of 4-5 oysters will give you the recommended daily allowance of the minerals copper, iodine, iron, manganese, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus and calcium. They are also high in many vitamins and contain protein, carbohydrates and lipids. On top of all of that they simply taste great!
Whip yourself up some sensational meals at home or at your campsite by getting your seafood virtually straight off the boats. You’ll only need to add simple condiments such as a basic white sauce, a drizzle of lemon juice, or a sprinkle of fresh herbs as the natural seafood flavours are tantalising enough to shine on their own.
The Forster-Tuncurry area has no shortage of excellent places to eat. Everywhere you go you’ll find that local seafood features highly on the menu. When combined with the regional wines, gourmet cheeses and grain-fed beef your taste buds won’t know what hit them.