Oyster company owned by Australian billionaires Andrew, Nicola Forrest derailed by parasite

Harvest Road oysters.

An oyster farm in Western Australia owned by billionaires Andrew and Nicola Forrest has been shut down due to a parasite infestation.

Harvest Road’s Carnarvon Fascine farm, in Western Australia, initiated an indefinite cessation of operations following an outbreak of Steinhausia, a type of spore-forming parasite.

The Forrests’ Harvest Road Group entered the oyster-farming business in the region in February 2020 through the acquisition of Albany, Western Australia, Australia-based Ocean Foods International, which was established in 1991. At the time of the purchase, Harvest Road Group said it hoped to become the nation’s leader in oyster aquaculture and pledged to expand its shellfish aquaculture activity in the region.

The company initiated a trial of farming rock oysters and hooded oysters across a two-hectare site in Carnarvon, Australia, in 2020, after it received AUD 125,000 (USD 80,000, EUR 75,000) from the state government. It recently received approval to expand the farm to 50 hectares, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

That expansion is now on hold as the Western Australia Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development initiates an assessment of the threat the outbreak poses to commercial aquaculture and the environment in the area. DPIRD Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer Katie Webb said no biosecurity response was necessary to the outbreak.

"DPIRD will work with industry to consider future research needs in relation to Steinhausia species in Western Australia, including consideration of how and when they are likely to cause disease and how this might be managed,” Webb said.

A Harvest Road Group spokesperson said the company is evaluating what its next steps will be.

"The business responded to the detection of the disease immediately and has been working closely with DPIRD," the spokesperson said. "The business is assessing the potential for further aquaculture trials and research and development at the Carnarvon sites. We are committed to the long-term development of the aquaculture industry in Western Australia."

Carnarvon Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Paul Dixon told the ABC the state was hoping for a boost from Harvest Road’s expansion as part of a larger investment in the seafood sector, with several other firms also recently or currently conducting trials of oyster aquaculture.

"We were very surprised and disappointed since it was something that was … going to be an addition to Carnarvon," he said.

According to Dixon, the area is recovering from a decision by Cape Town, South Africa-based Sea Harvest to shift 10 vessels engaged in prawn fishing from Carnarvon to Freemantle in 2022.

In 2021, Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest made a play to buy Huon Aquaculture, which was eventually acquired by Brazilian meat-processing firm JBS.

Photo courtesy of Harvest Road Group


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