France's oyster industry hit by fresh crisis
Between 50 and 80 percent baby oysters are dying as they are allegedly attacked by a virus that flourishes with warmer weather.Rennes – For the second consecutive year, the French shellfish industry has been plunged into crisis, with a mystery ailment decimating stocks of young oysters.
In 2008 French oyster farmers saw between 40 and 100 percent of their baby oysters wiped out, a far higher mortality than usual in the summer months.
Scientists at Ifremer, the French institute for the exploitation of the sea, pointed the finger at the virus OsHV-1 (Ostreid herpesvirus 1), which is associated with bacteria that flourishes in warmer weather.
This summer is seeing the same phenomenon, Jacques Sourbier, regional president of the national shellfish producers' body in the Loire told AFP, saying it appeared to be "every bit as worrying and serious as last year."
He was reluctant to give any precise figures as data was still being collated.
But oyster farmers are reporting a mortality rate of young oysters between 50 and 80 percent.
"It began in the south in April... and has since gone up the coast as far as Normandy," said Maxime Sion from the organisation of Loire producers.
The Poitou-Charentes coast, half-way up France's Atlantic coastline, was hit in May, with a mortality rate of 80 percent, according to regional shellfish producers' official Francois Patsouris.
Stephan Alleaume, president of the producers in Britanny in northwest France, put mortality among baby oysters at between 35 and 89 percent around Cancale, which is reputed for its oysters.
This week, Ifremer and maritime ministry experts carried out tests on deep water oyster beds in the bay of Quiberon, on the southern part of the Breton coast.
All the available data would be known in about a fortnight said Sourbier, "but we have already asked the government for the same level of help as last year."
In 2008 the national committee for agricultural insurance estimated losses at more than EUR 184 million and granted producers EUR 36.9 million in aid with an exceptional compensation rate set at 20 percent.
"Broadly speaking, producers can get over one year of very high mortality, but they can't get over two, especially as the market rates are very low," said Sion, who feared many oyster farmers would go out of business.
Producers have been lobbying Ifremer to put more resources into investigating what is killing the oysters.
In a report at the end of July, Ifremer said analyses confirmed "the widespread presence of the OsHV-1 virus, which has been associated with episodes of mortality of young Pacific oysters for several years."
It said it was urgently looking for solutions, of which one would be to select species resistant to the virus.
Last year was France's worst crisis since the native European or Portuguese oyster was virtually wiped out nearly 40 years ago. Since then most oyster farms have restocked with the Pacific "creuse" oyster.
France is the biggest oyster producer in Europe and fourth in the world after China, Japan and South Korea. Its 15,000 to 20,000 oyster farmers produce around 130,000 tons of oysters a year.
AFP / Expatica