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Real-time sensors for shellfish harvest area management

The 2017-2020 Food Agility CRC oyster industry transformation project used data from real-time sensors in 13 NSW oyster producing estuaries, measuring salinity, temperature and water height in shellfish harvest areas. 

Salinity data from this project can be used to refine harvest area management plans, potentially increasing future harvest opportunities. Project data will also support the development of models for harmful algal bloom and oyster mortality events to assist in refining farm management practices for industry. 

Oyster producers at Pambula Lake and Cromartys Bay (Port Stephens) were early adopters of salinity-based harvest area management plans using real-time sensor data. An independent economic assessment by the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI)on the use of sensors in these areas reported a positive economic impact for both harvest areas, due to increased harvest opportunities. 

The oyster industry transformation project is a collaboration between the Food Agility CRC, NSW DPI Aquaculture Research, NSW Food Authority Shellfish Program, University of Technology Sydney (UTS), NSW Hunter Local Land Services (LLS), The Yield and NSW oyster farmers. 

Key findings 

The economic assessment found a positive annual net benefit (profit after all operational costs, including sensor installation and maintenance) in both case study harvest areas: 

  • Pambula Lake: Net present value (NPV) of $1,420 per hectare per year 
  • Cromartys Bay: NPV of $862 per hectare per year 

Based on the current harvest area, this equates to an annual net benefit of $95,736 in Pambula Lake (67.42 hectares) and $15,344 in Cromartys Bay (17.8 hectares). 

Inset image of table

Results showed the total cost of a sensor may be recovered in the first year of operation in Pambula Lake (at a sensor cost of $429 per business) and the second year in Cromartys Bay (at a sensor cost of $1,714 per business). 

Sensitivity analysis within the report showed a positive economic benefit if there was damage to the real-time sensor that required a replacement within the second year of its operation. The report also considered changes in interest discount rates or farm gate price for shellfish, which all showed positive NPVs. 

The benefits of using real-time sensors are transferable to the wider shellfish industry. Apart from increase in harvest opportunities, the report showed there were other likely benefits for adopting real-time sensors in shellfish growing areas: 

  • Ongoing environmental monitoring, like prediction of harmful algal blooms and water quality that is critical during floods, bushfires and other emergencies 
  • Potential reduction in farmer stress associated with unnecessary closure of harvest areas 
  • Data collected from sensors inform oyster research 
  • Improved planning of business operations 
  • Improved cash flow from more contiguous harvest windows 
  • Reduced costs and risk of mortality from holding stock due to delayed harvest. 

More information 

Read the findings and results in full by downloading the Net Returns of Real-Time Sensors and Salinity-Based Management Plans in NSW Oyster Production report

For a summary of the findings download a copy of the Net Returns of Real-Time Sensors and Salinity-Based Management Plans in NSW Oyster Production factsheet

View videos on the Food Agility CRC project at: Food Agility CRC – Cooperative Research Centre customer story