August 3, 2009

French Oyster Industry Crippled For Second Year

France's shellfish industry is dealing with a crisis for the second year in a row, as an unexplained ailment has decimated stocks of young oysters, AFP reported.

French oyster farmers saw between 40 and 100 percent of their baby oysters wiped out in 2008, which is considered much higher than usual during summer harvests.

The virus OsHV-1 (Ostreid herpesvirus 1), which is associated with bacteria and flourishes in warmer weather, is the likely culprit, according to scientists at Ifremer, the French institute for the exploitation of the sea.

Jacques Sourbier, regional president of the national shellfish producers' body in the Loire, told AFP the same phenomenon is happening again this summer, and it appeared to be "every bit as worrying and serious as last year."

Data on the problem is still being collated, but oyster farmers are reporting between a 50 and 80 percent mortality rate among young oysters.

Maxime Sion from the organization of Loire producers said it began in the south in April and has since gone up the coast as far as Normandy.

Regional shellfish producers' official Francois Patsouris said the Poitou-Charentes coast on France's Atlantic coastline was hit with a mortality rate of 80 percent in May.

The mortality among baby oysters was between 35 and 89 percent around Cancale, which is reputed for its oyster production, according to Stephan Alleaume, president of the producers in Britanny in northwest France.

Ifremer and maritime ministry experts have been carrying out tests on deep-water oyster beds in the bay of Quiberon, on the southern part of the Breton coast.

Sourbier said all the available data would be known in about a fortnight, but added that they have already asked the government for the same level of help from 2008.

The national committee for agricultural insurance estimated losses at more than $260 million last year and granted producers a little over $53 million euros in aid with a 20 percent exceptional compensation rate.

Sion, who feared that many oyster farmers would go out of business, said producers can get over one year of very high mortality, but they can't get over two, especially since the market rates are very low.

Ifremer has been asked to put more resources into getting to the bottom of what is killing the oyster populations.

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, according to an Ifremer report at the end of July.

While many different solutions are being explored, one suggests selecting a species resistant to the virus. Most oyster farms restocked with the Pacific "creuse" oyster after the native European or Portuguese oyster was virtually wiped out nearly 40 years ago.

France's 15,000 to 20,000 oyster farmers produce around 130,000 tons of oysters a year, making it the biggest oyster producer in Europe and fourth in the world after China, Japan and South Korea.


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