July 11, 2008 / 2:32 PM / 12 years ago

Young French oysters hit by abnormal mortality

A plate of oysters is seen in the food hall at the KaDeWe department store in Berlin April 15, 2008. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

PARIS (Reuters) - Young oysters in most French breeding regions are dying at much higher rates than normal and scientists have yet to understand the causes, marine environmental experts said on Friday.

Oysters are a popular Christmas treat in France which produces 130,000 tonnes annually, making France the fourth biggest producer after China, Japan and South Korea.

A national committee of shellfish farmers held a meeting in Paris to look into findings by marine biologists which shows that between 40 and 100 percent of young oysters were dying, depending on the areas.

“What we seem to have is a conjunction of multiple factors concerning the oyster itself and the environment it’s in, and there could also be pathogens,” Michel Ropert, an environmental scientist at a marine lab in Normandy, told French television.

France’s main marine research body, the Ifremer, said the oysters affected by the unusual mortality rate are those aged 12 to 18 months, which should have reached maturity in time for Christmas 2009.

All main oyster-breeding areas in France are affected by the mortality problem, except one specific area at Arcachon on the west coast. Scientists do not know why Arcachon is spared.

“Even within the affected oceanic basins, certain zones are hit and others are not,” an Ifremer spokesman said.

French media reported oyster producers were worried about a possible virus like the one that decimated oyster beds in the 1970s. Other possible causes of the problem could be a toxic seaweed, pollution or a change in water temperature.

Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau, Claude Canellas and Swaha Pattanaik, writing by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Bate Felix

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