VIDEO: Making the world their oyster

By: Anna Game-Lopata, Photography by: Andrew Britten, Video by: Andrew Britten

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Bateman’s Bay Oyster farmers Ewan and Kevin McAsh with business partner Mick Daw are revitalising the NSW oyster industry. Anna Game-Lopata caught up with one half of the McAsh team, Ewan to find out just how.

The New South Wales oyster industry may be insignificant in world market terms, but it’s nothing a good dose of ambition and strategy can’t cure.

Bateman’s Bay oyster producer and Nuffield scholar Ewan McAsh can’t help but be enthusiastic. He’s on a mission to raise farm gate prices, improve product recognition for farmers and lift the declining industry back into the black.

"We have really good market conditions, there’s strong demand for our product," McAsh says as we boat towards one of his ‘finishing’ oyster leases on the NSW south coast’s Clyde River.

"The farmers here have good community acceptance and we just have a good quality, environmentally sustainable product with huge export potential. Oysters are a very good export species because they have such a long shelf life out of water."

Ewan and Kevin McAsh, who began farming in 2004, produce about 1,000 dozen a week, harvesting 600 to 1,000 baskets a day. They hold 11 leases spread across 20ha making them the estuary’s third largest grower in terms of production.

"We produce about 60,000 dozen oysters a year, while one of the bigger guys would be doing 80,000 dozen a year," Ewan says.

But Ewan McAsh is building a better way, for himself, other oyster producers on the Clyde and those further afield.

"We’ve invested in machinery [that] enables a lot of smaller farmers along the south coast of NSW to process their oysters through my shed," he enthuses.

"Farmers truck their oysters to me, I process them, bag, tag and sell them through my business partner, oyster supplier Mick Daw in Queensland.

When you add that in, Ewan’s 1,000 dozen per week jumps to 6,000 dozen and his 60,000 dozen per year skyrockets to a massive 220,000 to 250,000 in terms of turnover through the shed.

"That’s given us the capacity to supply bigger and better markets," he says.

Ewan Mc Ash Oysters

Breeds include Sydney Rock oysters, Pacific oysters and the native Angasi.

"Our business is in transition," Ewan adds.

"We’re phasing out wholesale supply and moving into boxed sales to key restaurant customers in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra along with potential export markets. That’s where my focus is; on supplying a better product."

Soon, Ewan and Kevin will be partnering with Mick Daw to launch a new company called Signature Oysters working with five other farmers from other areas in Australia with the hope of rapid growth.

"Signature Oysters will pack live oysters and send to the thousands of great restaurants out there willing to shuck their own oysters. Consumers will soon appreciate these freshly opened, delicious oysters compared to the two-day-old ones rinsed with water currently common in the market.

"Currently we can’t supply export markets; they’re huge. We can’t even supply domestic markets properly. But in the last two years I can see it growing.

"I can see farmers that would have been spending all their days hand grading now going back out on their leases and growing more oysters, growing better oysters. It’s so good to work with guys that get it and you can see them making more money and capacity building."

"Mick and I are going to change the way oysters are sold and marketed in Australia. That’s what we’re doing, that’s what needs to happen. That’s what I am excited about."

Read more about Ewan’s story and his plans on transforming NSW's oyster industry in the upcoming issue of New Farm Machinery magazine, out February 2. Subscribe to the magazine to have it delivered.

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