THEY are a long way from the oyster farms of Port Stephens, but Hunter scientists have been credited for their role in developing a new industry in Vietnam.
The Vietnamese oyster industry has grown exponentially since Port Stephens Fisheries Institute principal research scientist and University of Newcastle conjoint professor Dr Wayne O’Connor first visited in 2005 with now NSW deputy director general fisheries Dr Geoff Allan to explore aquaculture opportunities.
“Today oyster farming occurs across 28 provinces and production has been estimated to have reached 15,000 tonnes,” Dr Geoff Allan said.
Much of the growth follows a series of projects Dr O’Connor and colleagues worked on that have put the Vietnamese oyster production at roughly 1.5 times Australia’s, which he said spread more quickly between farmers and scientists than he had anticipated.
Most recently, Dr O’Connor has been recognised for his work on a collaborative program with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and Research Institute for Aquaculture No. 1 to bolster their industry through improving the availability of juveniles, also known as seed.
“One of my real concerns when we went across is that there’s a language barrier,” Dr O’Connor said.
“You wonder how you are going to disseminate that to farmers … but actually then it got out a lot faster than we might have expected.”
Much of the Vietnamese oyster crop is sold to hotels to cater for tourists, he said.
Dr O’Connor said there had been “obvious opportunity” to turn informal growing into a larger, more reliable supply.
“They would harvest them from the wild … but they had no reliable supply,” Dr O’Connor said. “This is a good industry that’s never going to compete with Australia.
“At the moment they are not even meeting their own requirements.”
Dr O’Connor said his work had created an exchange. As Vietnam’s industry focuses on improved quality, the ACIAR program has also supported research into Sydney rock oyster breeding and boosting pipi stocks in areas including Stockton.
Late last year, the Vietnamese government awarded Dr O’Connor as program leader the Medal for Agriculture and Rural Development.
Despite the accolade, Dr O’Connor says his main thrill from the program’s success is simple.
“It is probably in the number of small coastal families involved, there’s 2500 families now involved,” he said. “It’s the knowledge that these families are ... getting good income from it.
“It’s creating opportunities for the kids to stay on the farm or stay in these areas.”