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    South Australia - Industries - Rural, Primary and Secondary


    Oysters and Crayfish


    (Taken from an unpublished manuscript by Geoffrey H. Manning, (Glenelg - A Social History - 1836-1936 - copy in State Library)

    When a number of fishermen took up their trade in colonial South Australia they were individually induced to push the capture to extremes without regard to spawners and small fry and the consequence was that the sea coast was denuded of its denizens by the eagerness of the chase. To cite but one instance; in the early days of the colony the whole of the coast line from Port Wakefield to Surveyor's Point was the home of the oyster and there were thousands on thousands there on a natural bed and no sooner was the cupidity of the fishers aroused than cutters cruised in those waters.

    Irrespective of cause or effect, regardless of legislative enactment, the toilers of the sea dredged and dredged until the demand overcame the supply. They paid little regard to the fishery in which they were engaged; in no case was a selection made, but the whole of the fish, great or small, were drafted off to supply the city. The end came and finally not a mollusc was available - not a solitary native oyster remained and the dredgers were constrained to seek fresh fields and pastures new. Coffin Bay, Port Lincoln and other desirable spots then furnished the gourmand with this luxury.

    During the first twenty years of the colony's existence oyster lovers rejoiced in the abundance of the tasty mollusc which were 'a valuable element in the pleasure of a visit to the Bay and very conspicuous item in Host Moseley's carte.' In the early 1860s he had an oyster barge moored on the northern side of the jetty and it was reported that the 'molluscs appeared to have thriven wonderfully in the submerged compartments.' Besides oysters the barge was furnished with a few crayfish and shrimps, 'the former of which did well, increasing in size and firmness and the latter multiplied to an extent which had not been anticipated.' Satisfied with his experiment Mr Moseley planned to enlarge his barge which then measured 36 by 14 feet, with a depth of more than a yard.

    By 1845 the excessive removal of oysters from local beds was cause for concern and a complainant pleaded for appropriate government action. Alas, this was not forthcoming. In 1850 the proprietor of the Glenelg Inn, Mr Ward, imported oysters from Yorke and Eyre Peninsulas and attempted to establish an industry at Glenelg but he suffered severely from the depredations of thieves.

    When the falling away of supply was first discovered a Bill, sponsored by Mr C.S. Hare was passed through the Legislative Council in 1853 to encourage artificial beds and, while its provisions were no doubt sound and sufficient from a legal point of view, it was rendered practically useless by the want of knowledge among those who took advantage of it as to the management of beds. These were laid down at Glenelg by Messrs Hansford Ward, Henry Moseley and John McDonald, but the ground was sandy and quite unsuited to oysters as it 'gave them nothing to hold by and as little to live on.' Further, the little chance the oysters had of coming to maturity in such circumstances was destroyed by the careless manner of dredging for them. The unripe ones were not carefully returned to the bed but thrown recklessly on to the living oysters, thousands of which were smothered.

    By 1866 Holdfast Bay was not 'the bivavular Goshen as it once was' for the natural beds had been destroyed through the stupidity and carelessness of the dredgers. A few years previously an attempt had been made to lay down artificial beds 'on the French principle' but failed in consequence of the sites being ill-selected. Recourse was only available from a 'course, flabby article from Port Lincoln' or an expensive import from Sydney. In December 1866 Mr Smith introduced a Bill 'for making oysters grow where none grew before.' It authorised the formation of artificial beds, provided for their protection and prohibited their sale during January, October, November and December. These regulations were frequently broken and the press reminded the legislature that it would be well to bear it in mind when any fresh attempt was made to legislate on the subject of oyster fisheries.

    All this talk was to no avail for by 1870 the plentiful supply of oysters in St Vincent Gulf 'within two or three hours sail of the Lighthouse' had vanished. Many of these beds could have continued to supply the city's needs but for the vandalism of several fishermen who manned cutters and dredged perpetually over the same ground month after month until the beds were completely destroyed. When this was worked out the magnificent supply at Port Lincoln was attacked in the same manner and yet there was no interference with those who were 'killing the goose for the golden egg'; finally, Coffin Bay became prey for the spoiler.

    If any proof were needed of the usefulness of closing an oyster ground after it was 'worked out' it could have been easily furnished in the case of the Orontes Bank, situated on the opposite side of the gulf, about west of Semaphore. In the 1870s oysters were dredged up at the rate of 100,000 per week, but this yield dwindled away until it did not pay to work it - the bed closed itself and remained as such for many years, following which Mr Albert Molineux paid it a visit:.

    When an announcement came in 1901 that the authorities had decided to reopen Boston Bay, following a closure against dredging for about 13 years, the local oyster men were in high glee for the famous Port Lincoln oyster had been gradually, but surely, diminishing. Of course, there had been a time when it was a 'drug in the market' for that was when the oyster fishers scooped them up without a thought for the future with the result that large quantities were transported on to beaches to waste.

    The local toilers were in good heart on the opening day and, with a favourable breeze, six cutters went out to test the water after its enforced rest. Alas, the oysters were not there; not a vestige, alive or dead, could be found, and after three days the total harvest consisted of a quarter of a bag when it was announced that the industry was doomed and the only alternative was artificial cultivation which could ensure a fair supply in a few years 'even if the price would possibly be a luxury rate.'

    General Notes

    "Oysters" is in the Register,
    26 November 1866, page 2d.

    "Oysters and Fisheries Bill" is in the Register,
    7 December 1866, page 2c.

    "Oyster Fisheries" is in the Observer,
    2 May 1868, page 3g; also see the
    12 November 1870, page 2e.

    "Oysters and Crayfish" is in the Advertiser,
    15 January 1872, page 2f,
    "Oyster Growing" in the Observer,
    25 May 1872, page 8c,
    "Oyster Culture" in the Observer,
    23 August 1873, page 13e.

    "Our Oyster Supply" is in the Register,
    16 February 1875, pages 4g-6d and
    20 February 1875, page 4g; also see
    28 March 1878, page 4f,
    7 February 1881, page 4e,
    31 January 1883, page 6d,
    29 October 1885, page 4e,
    19 and 24 January 1881, pages 3e and 3c.

    "Oyster Stealing at Port Lincoln" is in the Observer,
    12 July 1884, page 32c.

    Also see Register,
    11 February 1881, page 4f,
    6 November 1885, page 4f,
    20 March 1886, page 5e,
    15 May 1886, page 6c,
    18 and 21 August 1886, pages 7c and 3c,
    1 and 25 February 1889, pages 5c and 7e,
    19 and 21 August 1886, pages 3e and 3f,
    21 and 28 August 1886, pages 34c and 34a,
    23 January 1892, page 34e,
    6 February 1892, page 35e,
    7 February 1891, page 9d,
    21 January 1892, page 4e,
    22 November 1892, page 4h,
    1 December 1892, page 6h,
    11 March 1893, page 5b,
    6 January 1899, pages 4h-5b,
    18 March 1893, page 30e,
    22 April 1893, page 28e.

    The discovery of a new oyster bed near Black Point is reported in the Advertiser,
    19 and 21 August 1886, pages 3f and 6f,
    2 November 1886, page 7b.

    "Oyster Culture" is in the Register on
    19 August 1873, page 4e,
    "The Vanished Oyster" in the Advertiser on
    15 February 1908, page 10g,
    29 January 1909, page 5e.

    "Oysters Ruined" is in the Register,
    24 September 1909, page 5a; also see
    14 July 1910, page 6d,
    8 February 1912, page 15g,
    28 November 1912, page 6d,
    11 December 1912, page 15c,
    15 November 1921, page 8c.
    Photographs are in the Observer,
    17 September 1910, page 32.

    "An Oyster Nursery" at Proper Bay is discussed in the Advertiser,
    16 May 1912, page 9d; also see
    12 December 1912, page 14f.

    "Oyster Nursery" is in the Register,
    4 June 1912, page 12f,
    "Port Lincoln Oysters - Proposed National Nursery" is in the Observer,
    18 May 1912, page 27a.
    "How They Gather the Port Lincoln Oyster" is in the Chronicle,
    4 April 1935, page 50.

    "State Oyster Nursery" is in the Observer,
    26 April 1913, page 32d.

    "The Australian Crayfish" is in the Observer,
    26 December 1914, page 35a.

    "Oysters and Politicians" is in the Register,
    15 November 1921, page 8c,
    12 November 1921, page 18b.

    "Diving for Crayfish" is in The Mail,
    8 May 1926, page 18c.

    "Close Season for Crayfish" is in the Register,
    31 July 1928, page 12e,
    31 July 1928, page 21e,
    9 August 1928, page 19f.

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    "A trawling and dredging excursion by the Field Naturalists' Society is reported in the Register,
    25 March 1890, page 5c.

    Trawling for Fish - Early SA Efforts" is in the Register,
    2 May 1907, page 6f; also see
    30 October 1908, page 4g,
    3, 4 and 9 November 1908, pages 7f, 7e and 5a,
    2 and 4 December 1908, pages 9g and 3h,
    28 January 1910, page 7e,
    3 November 1908, page 10e,
    14 and 25 December 1908, pages 8c and 8g.

    "Searching for Fish - A Cruise in a Trawler" is in the Advertiser,
    14 February 1912, page 12d,
    1 March 1912, page 6d; also see
    24 April 1912, page 8d and
    2 March 1912, page 13d,
    9 March 1912, page 49d,
    The Mail,
    12 April 1913, page 9d.

    "A Trawling Cruise" is in the Register on
    3, 7, 13 and 16 October 1914, pages 11f, 8f, 8a and 7d,
    "Fish in the Bight" in the Advertiser,
    16 June 1914, page 9e.

    "Trawling Revival Indicated" is in The News,
    8 December 1933, page 3b,
    "First Trawling Venture" on
    16 January 1934, page 7a,
    7 March 1934, page 5c; also see
    8 and 10 August 1935, pages 7a and 5e.

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    Also see Place Names - Encounter Bay. "Whale Fishing in the Early Days of SA" is in the Register,
    6 September 1879, page 5e.
    A history of whaling is in RNs 820 and 833.

    "An Ancient Whaler", the reminiscences of James Long, is in the Observer,
    3 February 1894, page 33d,
    8 April 1899, page 45c.

    The reminiscences of Alfred F. Rich are in the Express,
    16 August 1899, page 4b.

    "When Whaling Flourished" is in The Mail,
    15 May 1926, page 23a.
    "Pioneering the Whaling Industry" is in the Chronicle,
    4 July 1935, page 47,
    "Life Among the Whalers" on
    5 September 1935, page 63.

    "The Whale Fishing" is discussed in the Southern Australian,
    4 and 11 September 1839, pages 3b and 3a.

    "Our Whale Fisheries" is in the Observer,
    28 October 1843, page 6c,
    11 May 1844, page 5b,
    22 June 1844, page 5b,
    5 October 1844, page 5a,
    26 August 1845, page 5b.

    "Bay Whaling" is in the Register,
    23 July 1845, page 2d,
    "The Whaler's Story" on
    25 April 1866, page 2h; also see
    25 December 1868, page 2e.

    "Whaling at Port Lincoln" is in the Southern Australian,
    5 October 1841, page 4a,
    "The Whaling Grounds of South Australia" in the SA Gazette & Mining Journal on
    10 April 1847, page 2b.

    "Whaling" is in the Register,
    25 December 1868, page 2e,
    24 April 1871, page 5c,
    2 January 1869, page 12d,
    "A Visit to a Whaler" on
    10 April 1869, page 14c,
    "Whale Fishing" on
    3 December 1870, page 8c,
    29 April 1871, page 7b.

    A description of a whaler in South Australian waters is in the Register,
    13 June 1870, page 5e; also see
    24 April 1871, page 5c.
    An attempt to revive whaling is discussed on
    5 April 1895, page 5c.

    An article on whaling is in the Express,
    24 April 1871, page 2e.

    "The Encounter Bay Whale Fishery" is in the Observer,
    14 September 1872, page 7b.

    "Whales at Victor Harbor - Some Reminiscences" is in the
    22 July 1909, page 11b,
    "Slaughter of Whales" on
    27 May 1927, page 15d.

    "Whaling Industry - A Modern Revival" is in the Observer,
    27 April 1912, page 49a,
    "Whaler in Nepean Bay" on
    15 June 1912, page 18c.

    "SA Whales and Whaling" is in the Register,
    14 February 1930, page 10a.

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