There is a bit of a stink in the historic French city of La Rochelle. Earlier this week, 300 shellfish farmers dumped the shells of oysters, mussels and scallops outside the administrative offices in protest at what they describe as the general indifference of local politicians to the “slow death of estuary and coastal ecosystems”.
Cyril Pain, a third generation oyster farmer on the Ile d’Oléron, says climate change and pollution have so devastated the oyster beds that “the whole industry is threatened”.
Mr Pain complains of “very high numbers of dead oysters” over the past two years and “now it’s happening to scallops and mussels too”. He says shellfish farmers have mobilised to warn the authorities “because when they wake up it’ll be too late”.
Jean-Pierre Baud, a researcher with the French Institute for Exploitation of the Sea, says a herpes virus and a bacterium known as vibrio aestuarianus are part of the problem.
Is the oyster, one of nature’s sentinels, an endangered species in France? Mr Baud doesn’t think so. “It’s the industry which has been weakened economically,” he says, noting that the oysters themselves have a capacity to adapt to their environment.