*A crate of Hawkesbury River oysters ready for sale. (Photo: Caitlin Hughes)

Hawkesbury River oyster farmers are calling for better communication from Water NSW after releases from Western Sydney’s Warragamba Dam meant they couldn’t harvest for almost two months. 

The NSW Food Authority had to close the river to harvesting, because the freshwater release lowered the salinity levels necessary to grow healthy oysters.

Growers say they did not receive any notice from Water NSW prior to the dam release.

“I actually heard it through the news,” said Sheridan Beaumont, an oyster farmer and guide from Sydney Oyster Tours.

“NSW Water didn’t even respond to my email for quite some time.”

Oyster farmer, Sheridan Beaumont, holding large oyster while sitting next to a crate of oysters and some netting.

Sheridan Beaumont (Photo: Caitlin Hughes)

Ms Beaumont says that if growers had been warned, they would have had time to move their oysters towards the coast where salinity levels are higher.

“Once [salinity levels] started dropping and got below 10, everyone panicked,” she told Central News. 

“We should be informed… so that we’ve got an opportunity to move our oysters ahead of time, instead of it spiking down to zero and us losing everything.” 

Restaurants and tour services who usually serve their own oysters, had to source supplies from other areas.

Deb O’Sullivan, co-owner of Hawkesbury River Oyster Shed, says it becomes a huge cost to the business. She estimates it costs “thousands of dollars each week”.

People lining up at an outdoor restaurant, sign in forefront reads; 'Fresh Oyster, SOLD OUT'

Hawkesbury River Oyster Shed (Photo: Caitlin Hughes)

Environmental scientist Ana Rubio from Hornsby Shire Council has been working on better communication between state bodies and oyster farmers.

“Water NSW could be sending out an email for stakeholders interested or impacted by releases… notifying them about what their plans are and keeping them in the loop,” she said. 

As per operational guidelines, Water NSW began periodic releases from the dam after it reached full capacity in the middle of August. By September 18, over 150 gigaliters of freshwater had been released from the dam into the river. 

Warragamba Dam is operated this way to reduce the risk of flooding in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley. 

Dr Rubio says that the council and the oyster farmers understand why Water NSW must conduct periodic releases. But she also says that future dam releases must be managed in a way that is more considerate of the oyster farming industry. 

“Instead of releasing a large amount of water in one day, it might be better to release less, but for longer… we are looking at these options.”

— Caitlin Hughes @caitlinrhughes