The first week of operational activity to remove flat oysters from Big Glory Bay, Stewart Island is ahead of schedule.
The oysters are being removed in a bid to halt the spread of Bonamia ostreae.
MPI field headquarters manager Andrew Sander says activity this week has exceeded expectations.
"We kicked off on Monday and by end of day Friday we will have completed the first phase of this operation, which is approximately 700 cages. This equates to 12 truckloads to the landfill with a total weight of around 25 tonnes.
"The operation has run very smoothly and support from local iwi, oystermen, operators, farmers, councils, Environment Southland and community has been vital to this. These groups are also continuing to assist us in the development of plans for upcoming stages. Another planning meeting is being held today.
"Now we have a process that we are confident is working well, we will be looking to increase our effort, which may well involve additional trips and vessels. Our focus remains removing the disease pressure as quickly as possible in order to protect the wild fishery.
"Phase two of the operation, which involves lifting of the last cages and then ropes, will commence over the weekend, sooner than we anticipated.
"To date, we have been utilising local farmers, their employees, their facilities and equipment as well as their expertise and this will continue to the end of this operation.
"The impact on the lives of those affected by this cannot be underestimated. Supporting the community, individuals and families affected by the response is a high priority for us. MPI is working closely with the Rural Support Trust, government agencies, the city, district and regional councils and political leadership to ensure welfare services and support is available to anyone who needs it.
Public meetings were held in Stewart Island and Bluff this week. While the meetings were highly charged, they were constructive, says Geoff Gwyn, MPI Director Readiness and Response.
"One of the topics raised during both meetings was testing. Both communities expressed a desire for testing of the Foveaux Strait wild fishery prior to our scheduled testing in September 2017.
"Since March 2016 MPI has conducted 6-monthly sampling and testing of farmed and wild oysters for Bonamia ostreae in Marlborough, Otago, Chatham Islands and Southland. This surveillance programme is designed to detect early infections, so that measures can be implemented to control spread of disease.
"Wild oysters collected from Foveaux Strait in September 2016 and February 2017 were all negative for Bonamia ostreae. Previous testing of Foveaux Strait as far back as 2012 has not found any Bonamia ostreae, this gives us further confidence it is not present there.
"The reason testing is conducted 6-monthly is to optimise the early detection of the disease, as there is a 3-month period between infection and when the parasite is detectable.
"I am highly confident of our surveillance and testing programme and I’m equally confident that we have made the right decisions based on this information. However, I acknowledge this issue is of high interest to the Stewart Island and Bluff communities, who are most affected by MPI’s decision to remove the farms from Big Glory Bay.
"MPI has listened to the ideas and concerns that have been expressed. In order to reassure the affected communities that we have made the right decision, MPI will be conducting further testing of the Foveaux Strait wild fishery. Results will be available within 3 weeks.
"I need to be clear that even if these tests were positive that would not necessarily mean that we would change our current operational activity, which will continue during this period."