After pearls, it’s oysters on their way to rarity; at least in France. For the past two-and-a-half years, a mystery virus known as OsHV-1 has been decimating stocks of oysters throughout France, worrying sellers and consumers alike.
“My family’s been in this business for four generations, and it’s tough for us,” says Matthieu Le Moal, a 31-year-old who runs two local oyster beds in Cancale, a French town. Since oysters take about three years to grow to edible size, this is the first year the virus’ effect will be fully felt by consumers. France’s national committee for shellfish farming (CNC) estimates that this season, stocks will be 40% lower than usual. The shortage is expected to cause a price rise of at least 15%. “Production could drop to 80,000 tonnes (from 1,30,000 tonnes) in 2010/2011, and 50,000 the following season,” warns CNC’s Goulven Brest.
The French Research Institute for the Exploitation of the Sea (IFREMER), the scientific body tasked with tackling the virus, said the death rate reached 80 to 100% in some batches of huitres creuses, the most commonly produced oysters in France.
Even as the industry pins its hopes on new, resistant strains, all measures have drawn a blank so far.