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Plague Crisis Haunts French Oyster Industry

18 June 2010

FRANCE - French oyster-growers are facing ruin because of a viral epidemic that for a third year in a row has been wiping out millions of baby shellfish.

From the Mediterranean coast to the bay of Arcachon on the Atlantic and now Brittany, farmers have been watching in dismay in recent weeks as the virus once again moved northwards, keeping pace with the rising sea temperature., reports BBC News.

In 2008 and 2009, the industry was ravaged by the same epidemic, with many farms losing 80-100 per cent of their stocks of naissains - first-year spats.

Because it takes three years to grow a commercially viable oyster, so far the economic impact of the crisis has been limited.

But now all pre-2008 production has been depleted, so major shortages are predicted next winter when demand peaks around Christmas and New Year. In France that is when some 90 per cent of oysters are sold.

The Committee to Save Oyster-Farming - an ad-hoc group set up in answer to the crisis - has warned that 40% of the country's 4,800 mainly family-run businesses could be forced to close, with the loss of thousands of jobs.

The state marine research agency (Ifremer) said it is "one of the worst crises in the history of French oyster-farming".

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