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POMS: you may have won the battle, but you haven't won the war

Updated: Dec 9, 2018

“We’ve been invaded by bloody POMS again!” The Captain said to his secretary. Overhearing this, Chief Mate Jimbo huffed under his breath “Not again!” Jimbo wasn’t a bright light, in fact he was a cousin of the Captain who, feeling sorry for him, hired Jimbo as his Chief Mate (as a favour to his mum). Upon overhearing the news, Jimbo immediately ordered the crew to “Fire the canons at will!” After the smoke cleared, the Captain came out raging: “What are you doing you imbecile?!” Jimbo looked perplexed and said “Capt’n, I overheard ya, ya said the brits was comin!’”

If you’re are still wondering, this has nothing to do with British people, but in fact has everything to do with the Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome (POMS). POMS is one of those diseases that isn’t harmful to humans, but it kills all the Pacific Oysters. All that is left after a POMS hit, is a tube of empty shells that sound like the insides of your head after a big night out; loud and crunchy.

POMS first invaded France, New Zealand and later on Australia in 2011. A significant number of farms and family businesses closed. The oyster industry gathered together to come up with a battle plan; there had to be something done about it. Because it wasn’t a matter of if POMS would invade other parts of Australia, it was when.

The answer was to be found in a selective breeding program.

Australian Seafood Industries (ASI) was one of the foot soldiers making steady progress. At the time, they were breeding for other “desirable traits” like shell shape, growth and meat condition. But industry recognised their adaptability, and marched to them and requested they focus their breeding on POMS resistance. Since then, ASI – backed by industry - has been progressively winning the war against POMS.

Here’s some stats:

  • 70% survival rate of 12-month-old animals when exposed to POMS;

  • 2.5 years to achieve breeding targets; breeding objective was met in half the amount of time; and

  • Retaining other marketable traits (growth, shell shape and meat condition) whilst breeding for POMS resistance.

But don’t feel relived yet. This is not the end of the story, in fact the plot thickens.

Half way during the breeding program, Tasmania was also invaded by POMS on that fateful day in January 2016. To say it lightly, seed supply was down and business was bad.

The biggest issue in industry was spat resistance at that time a.k.a baby oysters (2-3 month old). These oysters have an underdeveloped immune system which means they are more prone to diseases. Even though ASI had achieved POMS resistance in 1-year old animals, the short amount of stock supply meant that even younger animals needed POMS resistance.

As a result, ASI was given $1.8 million from the Future Oysters CRC-P for project 2016-801 and promised industry that they will deliver highly resistant spat. Since 2016, project 2016-801 has achieved some invaluable outcomes:

  • Ability to rapidly provide hatcheries POMS resistant broodstock. Until now, no business has closed completely due to POMS;

  • Established a successful breeding hub in South Australia to provide industry protection from POMS for when it hits. It is now in it’s second generation of breeding;

  • Development of a biosecure facility in Taroona, which allows broodstock to be produced from infected broodstock; and

  • Developed methods to fast track the POMS resistance in 2-3-month-old families.

So, what is next for ASI? Funding for the CRC-P runs out mid-2019 and ASI has a whole ‘nother POMS and breeding season to get through. At the moment, they are breeding their 2018 Year Class in the IMAS-ASI hatchery and they’re hoping to put out a whopping 6 POMS trials for 80 families across two hot spots for POMS this summer (Pittwater and Pipeclay).

Their main mission? To get out as much POMS resistant spat to industry as soon as possible. While POMS may have one some battles, it hasn’t won the war.

If you'd like more information on this project, please visit:


The author acknowledges that the CRC Program supports industry-led collaboration between industry, researchers and the community. The Future Oysters CRC-P, which focuses on the production of ‘Better’, ‘Healthy’ and ‘More’ oysters, is led by Australian Seafood Industry Pty Ltd in partnership with Oyster Australia Ltd, Select Oyster Company Pty Ltd, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, Department of Primary Industries and Regions (South Australian Research & Development Institute), University of Tasmania, The Flinders University of South Australia, The University of Newcastle, The University of Adelaide, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, University of Technology Sydney, University of Sunshine Coast, Macquarie University, Department of Skills and Regional Development (NSW), and The Yield Technology Solutions Pty Ltd.

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