Oyster farming: a pearl of a trade

Tom McIlroy
Job with a view: Kevin McAsh at the 20-hectare oyster farm near Batemans Bay.
Job with a view: Kevin McAsh at the 20-hectare oyster farm near Batemans Bay. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

Kevin McAsh proudly says he has the best office in the world.

Assisted by his granddaughter Molly, the Batemans Bay oyster farmer checks his baskets and lines in the Clyde River and smiles about the picturesque scenery he takes in at work everyday. ''It's not a bad place to go to work,'' he says, standing at the back of his flat-bottomed boat and waving to other passing boats and fishermen.

After more than a decade cultivating oysters for sale to some of the leading restaurants in NSW and Canberra, Mr McAsh takes pride in the simplicity of the trade from which he sells more than 50,000 oysters annually.

Along with a popular oyster bar at nearby Ulladulla, his clients in the growing restaurant trade include Sydney's Bondi Icebergs and Rick Stein at Bannisters in Mollymook.

Mr McAsh, who is chairman of the NSW Farmers oyster committee, welcomes chefs and restaurant owners who sell his harvest to the Clyde, to see the operation, harvesting rock, pacific and flat oysters.

Since taking over in 2004, Mr McAsh has replaced the traditional stick method of cultivation with more environmentally sustainable plastic and recycled tools. He is also the first south coast farmer to bring in a high-speed, automated oyster grading machine.

At about eight shells per second, the eventual consumer reaps the rewards, he says.

Mr McAsh regularly checks the water quality and salinity levels in the area.

''Everybody is very busy here at the moment and the oysters are in terrific condition,'' he says.


''A lot of tourists are about for the local sales so it's been a good year. We haven't had the rain that we had last year and the conditions are staying really nice.''

NSW Police and the Department of Primary Industry run an annual operation targeting oyster theft and illegal seafood trading during the Christmas and New Year period.

But oyster poachers could not be further from Mr McAsh's mind right now.

''This part of the year is the busiest for us,'' he says. ''Between Christmas and New Year is just nuts. On a busy week like this, and its busy up until Easter, we might sell something like 1500 dozen oysters.''

Despite his distance from the tables of some of his most loyal customers, Mr McAsh says oysters remain an Australian classic.

''If you're getting your oysters out of a bag in Canberra or NSW, yes they are not right out of the water that moment - but they might as well be.''