The NSW Food Authority licenses approximately 300 businesses in the shellfish sector, which includes around 270 oyster farmers and 30 shellfish wild harvest businesses.
NSW Shellfish Program standards
All commercial oysters and mussels produced in NSW are harvested in accordance with the NSW Shellfish Program, established by the Food Regulation 2015 under the Seafood Food Safety Scheme.
For details of the required food safety standards see shellfish cultivation or harvesting.
For information on wet storage of shellfish by retail operators refer to the Seafood retailers page.
Harvest areas and management
The Food Authority specifies harvest areas in estuaries for growing commercial quantities of shellfish.
Each harvest area is classified based on food safety and local environmental risk factors, which determine the approval level of the area. Classification and approval level is periodically reviewed. Detailed information on the classification process is provided in the Australian Shellfish Quality Assurance Program Operations Manual.
The Food Authority also specifies environmental conditions under which a harvest area can be open for commercial shellfish harvesting in harvest area management plans.
This approach aligns with international best practice for the safe harvest of shellfish.
Local shellfish committees
The Food Authority appoints a local shellfish committee to help the Food Authority administer local programs and consult with industry via the NSW Shellfish Committee.
Local shellfish committees are responsible for:
- administering, under the direction of the Food Authority, the local program 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
- ensuring that each analysis for the purposes of the local program is conducted in a laboratory approved by the National Association of Testing Authorities, or by the Food Authority, for the particular type of analysis.
- 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 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.
The 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 Food Authority and the industry.
Open/closed status of harvest areas
Commercial collection or harvesting of shellfish may only occur when the harvest area has an "open" status, or if "harvest and hold" is approved for the area (see below).
Shellfish can accumulate pollution such as runoff because they are 'filter feeders' and events such as localised rainfall can pollute the estuary. Harvest areas may temporarily close for harvesting.
The Food Authority works with the shellfish industry to close harvest areas when necessary, and re-open them when microbiological testing indicates the estuaries are clean again and the shellfish have had time to purge themselves of all contaminants.
- 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 Food Authority attempts to ensure the current status of harvest areas is updated on a regular basis.
Harvest and Hold Scheme
The Harvest and Hold Scheme allows shellfish farmers to harvest product in the period between sample collection for a harvest area opening and reporting of sample 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, harvested 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 before 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 scheme see NSW Shellfish Program Harvest and Hold Scheme.
The Australian Department of Agriculture provides export controls and assistance for exporting goods from Australia.
Shellfish businesses that wish to export their fish and fish products can find information to meet their responsibilities from the Australian 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 discuss the specific requirements for your target market(s) by contacting the NSW Shellfish Program on (02) 6552 3000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Consultation: NSW Shellfish Committee
The Minister for Primary Industries, Food Authority and NSW DPI consults with the shellfish industry and receive advice on the operation and administration of the NSW Shellfish Program and local programs via the NSW Shellfish Committee.