NSW Shellfish Program

The NSW Food Authority licences approximately 300 businesses in the shellfish sector which includes around 270 oyster farmers and 30 shellfish wild harvest businesses.

The NSW shellfish industry is regulated by the Food Act 2003 (NSW) and Food Regulation 2015. Businesses need to hold a licence if undertaking the following activities:

  • the cultivating, harvesting or collection of shellfish
  • the depuration and wet storage of shellfish
  • the cultivating of spat

All businesses involved in these activities are required to apply for a licence with the Authority and pay an annual licence fee. How to apply for a licence

Businesses that hold a licence must meet the requirements as listed and comply with the following:

  • Food Act 2003 (NSW)
  • Food Regulation 2015
  • Food Standards Code, Standard 3.2.1, Food Safety Programs, Standard 3.2.2, Food Safety Practices and General Requirements and Standard 4.2.1, Primary Production and Processing Standard for Seafood.
  • NSW Shellfish Industry Manual

NOTE: Standard 4.2.1 does not apply to the cultivation of spat, as spat does not fall within the definition of shellfish and while these businesses are required to be licenced, they do not have to implement a food safety plan. These businesses are required to clearly identify all shellfish sold as ‘spat’ and ‘not for human consumption’. Spat production businesses are not audited, but are inspected to ensure compliance.

All oysters and mussels produced in NSW are harvested in accordance with the NSW Shellfish Program, which has adopted the Australian Shellfish Quality Assurance Program (ASQAP) as a minimum standard. All the requirements of the NSW Shellfish Program are contained in the NSW Shellfish Industry Manual (the Manual).

The Authority has prepared the Manual to specify certain requirements of the Seafood safety scheme under the Food Regulation 2015 and Standard 4.2.1 of the Food Standards Code. These requirements apply to all licensed shellfish businesses.

The Authority appoints a local shellfish committee to help the Authority administer the local program with responsibilities for:

  • administering, under the direction of the Food Authority, the local program for the area for which the committee is appointed, including: 
    • advising the Food Authority and licence holders in the local area who harvest, collect or depurate shellfish, when the environmental conditions set out in the local program that must be met before shellfish can be harvested, collected or depurated are not satisfied
    • coordinating the collection and analysis, at the expense of the local program, of samples of the environment in which the shellfish are grown, harvested or collected, in accordance with the plan for the management of harvest areas within that local area, and any additional sampling requirements of the Food Authority, and
    • ensuring that each analysis carried out for the purposes of the local program is carried out in a laboratory approved by the National Association of Testing Authorities, or by the Food Authority, for the particular type of analysis to be undertaken
  • communicating and consulting with the NSW Shellfish Committee , the Food Authority and persons who harvest farmed shellfish, collect wild shellfish, cultivate or depurate shellfish or cultivate spat in the area
  • determining annually, in consultation with persons required to comply with the local program, the total projected administration and operational costs of the local program (including the cost of maintaining the local committee)
  • advising the Food Authority before 1 August in each year of the costs referred to in the point above
  • preparing and submitting to the Food Authority, before 1 August in each year, a report on the local committee’s operations, including the level of participation in the local program, an account of the finances of the committee and any other matter that the NSW Shellfish Committee notifies as being required for inclusion in the report.  

All licensed shellfish cultivation and harvesting businesses must be routinely audited or inspected by a food safety auditor. Information on audits and inspections

For specific requirements related to each of the business types, please visit the pages below

Open/closed status of harvest areas

Shellfish harvest areas may temporarily close for a number of reasons, including localised rainfall that can lead to runoff and can pollute the estuary containing the shellfish.

Since shellfish are filter feeders they can accumulate this pollution.

The NSW Food Authority works with the shellfish industry to close harvest areas when necessary and re-open them when microbiological testing indicates that the estuaries have become clean again and the shellfish have been given adequate time to purge themselves of all contaminants.

Detailed information on the classification process is provided in the Australian Shellfish Quality Assurance Program Operations Manual current status of harvest areas

Disclaimer: Prior to harvesting shellfish for human consumption, farmers should confirm the status of the relevant harvest area with their local coordinator. Due to the unpredictable nature of events leading to harvesting closures, and the fact they may not always occur during business hours, the list may not always reflect the most recent closures and is not intended to be legally binding. Subject to the above qualifications, the NSW Food Authority attempts to ensure current status of harvest areas is updated on a regular basis.

Harvest and Hold Scheme

The Harvest and Hold Scheme was developed to allow shellfish farmers to harvest product in the period between sample collection for a harvest area opening and the reporting of results by laboratories.

Sometimes during extended wet periods, microbiological samples have been collected and meet the required standard but the harvest area is not opened due to bad weather conditions between sample collection and result reporting. The Harvest and Hold Scheme can expand the window of opportunity to harvest product.

How does the scheme work?

Once samples have been collected and tested, if the final results meet the necessary criteria, the harvesting of product may proceed as normal. If the results do not meet the criteria, the product must be returned to the water.

Eligibility is based on:

  • confirmation of satisfactory compliance above 90% for each local program
  • participation in a workshop by the Food Authority prior to commencing the scheme
  • submission of an application to the Food Authority to have individual licenses updated to include the permission for Harvest and Hold.

Implementation of the scheme will occur on an estuary by estuary basis as part of the annual review process.

For details on how to apply for the Harvest and Hold Scheme see the scheme document here.

Role of local coordinators

The NSW Food Authority works closely with key shellfish industry personnel, established as local coordinators in each estuary, who act as the vital communication link between the Authority and the industry.

Shellfish harvest areas are managed through the classification management plans, which dictate trigger levels of rainfall, salinity and water quality that must be met for harvest of shellfish to occur. This approach aligns with international best practice for the safe harvest of shellfish.


The Department of Agriculture provides export controls and assistance regarding exporting goods from Australia.

Shellfish businesses that wish to export their fish and fish products overseas can find information to meet their responsibilities from the Department of Agriculture

As well as meeting export requirements for transport, processing and packing, exported shellfish must be harvested from a harvest area that is listed for export. If you are interested in gaining export listing for your harvest area, you should contact the NSW Shellfish Program on (02) 9741 4848 or at nswsp@foodauthority.nsw.gov.au to discuss the specific requirements for your target market(s).