French oyster-lovers brace for Christmas shell-shock

A watery winter sun breaks through banks of grey cloud scudding over the chilly seas off Cancale in northwestern France, home to some of the country's finest oyster beds. The question is, for how much longer?

For the past two and a half years a mystery virus known as OsHV-1 has been decimating stocks of young oysters throughout France, and in Cancale on the Mont Saint Michel bay people are getting seriously worried.

"My family's been in this business for four generations and it's tough for us. For the young ones trying to set up in the trade it's unbelievably difficult," Matthieu Le Moal, a 31-year-old who runs two local oyster beds as well as a shellfish restaurant in the town, told AFP.

Since oysters take two and a half to three years to grow to edible size, this is the first year the virus' effect will fully be felt by consumers.

France's national committee for shellfish farming (CNC) estimates that this Christmas and New Year, the high season for oyster lovers, stocks will be 40 percent lower than in a normal year.

The shortage is expected to mean price rises, with consumers warned oysters are likely to be at least 15 percent more expensive.

In the Breton capital Rennes, shoppers visiting the oyster stalls at the bustling outdoor market, flanked by 17th-century half-timbered buildings, are already noticing the hikes.

"It's worrying. It's a considerable price rise and I'm concerned they'll get even more expensive," said Renee Cotin, an impeccably dressed Frenchwoman.

"They've got noticeably more expensive, especially this year," added Annick Viot.

But the industry is warning that unless a solution to the killer virus can be found rapidly, the shortages for the current 2009/2010 season will be just the tip of the iceberg.

The CNC argues that in a normal year the industry should produce around 130,000 tonnes of oysters.

"But that could drop to 80,000 tonnes in 2010/2011 and 50,000 the following season," CNC chairman Goulven Brest has warned.

The prospect of an impending oyster shortage also has the restaurant industry worried.

Olivier Roellinger, one of France's best known chefs who runs a luxury seafood restaurant in Cancale, said his suppliers had yet to increase their prices but that he understood hikes were likely.

"I completely support the oyster growers and sympathise with the situation they are in," he added.

The scale of the losses of young oysters is impressive. The French Research Institute for the Exploitation of the Sea (IFREMER), the scientific body tasked with tackling the virus, described the deaths as "massive and devastating."

In 2009, the last year for which full figures are available, IFREMER said the death rate reached 80 to 100 percent in some batches of cup-shaped "huitres creuses," the most commonly produced oysters in France.

There is no sign the situation has improved in 2010 and efforts to find a solution to the crisis have so far drawn a blank.

As part of an emergency government support programme for the industry, IFREMER recently began supplying oyster growers with a specially-produced strain of resistant or "R" oysters, supposed to be immune to the virus.

But these "super oysters" appear to have turned out just as susceptible to the disease as any others.

"The scientific studies were encouraging, but in practice we have seen very high death rates ranging from 50 to 100 percent for certain batches," said Brest, whose organisation is no longer advising growers to use the "R" variety.

The industry is currently pinning its hopes on new oyster strains imported from abroad, notably Japan, which it hopes will be resistant to the virus.

In the meantime, the oyster growers of Cancale are living from day to day, hoping that a few years from now they'll still be out in all weathers tending to their beloved bivalves.

News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
News
people
News
people
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
peopleAt the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Service Charge Accountant

    30,000 to 35,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: We are currently recruiting on...

    Management Accountant

    28,000 to 32,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our client, a hospitality busi...

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive

    £20 - 24k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive is needed t...

    Day In a Page

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?