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From the Deep

This episode screened July 14, 2007.

'From the Deep'

Bluff oysters are one of New Zealander's favourite delicacies and the start of the season is eagerly awaited up and down the country. 

Some Auckland seafood lovers were so desperate to be first to get a taste this year that they arranged for a helicopter to collect the catch from the deck of an oyster boat in Foveaux Strait.

Willy Calder of Bluff has been chasing these rare and expensive little creatures most of his life.  He owns and skippers the Argosy, a 21-metre boat built by his grandfather 40 years ago and skippered by his father until Willy took over in 1978. 

The family's been in the oyster industry since the 1930s and now Willy's two sons Reon and Casey have joined the crew.

It's not an easy life - Willy and his crew usually rise at 3 a.m. and are out on Foveaux Strait dredging well before dawn.  The boat doesn't return to Bluff till late afternoon.

In more than 30 years of oystering, Willy has experienced a roller coaster ride.  Some years have been good - but other seasons have been so bad that the oyster beds were closed down.

In the late 1980s the bonamia parasite invaded the Foveaux Strait oyster beds.  It killed a billion oysters and in 1991 so few were left that fishing was stopped. 

The fishery recovered sufficiently for oystering to resume in 1994, but with a sharply reduced quota and half the number of boats - the fleet was reduced to just 11.

The downturn cost many people their jobs, but Willy Calder survived by fishing for other species. 

From 1994 until the late 90s the oyster beds steadily recovered - but then bonamia broke out again.  Oystering continued but with reduced quota - and since then the beds have slowly recovered.  This season is the best for many years.

Eleven years ago Willy and his wife Karen expanded their business - now they process and distribute oysters as well.  Willy's still at the helm of the Argosy while Karen runs the factory, with the help of Willy's sister Jane.

Though bonamia always remains a threat, Willy's optimistic about the future of the oyster industry - and he hopes in years to come another generation of Calders will carry the tradition on.