Page last updated at 17:17 GMT, Tuesday, 4 August 2009 18:17 UK

French oysters plagued by illness

French oyster farmer sorting oysters, file pic from 2006
Oyster producers say more mature oysters are not affected by the illness

Scientists are investigating why an unknown illness has killed millions of baby oysters off the coast of France for the second year running.

French oyster farmers have reported a mortality rate of up to 90% in the young molluscs.

Last year oysters were decimated in many of France's coastal beds, dealing a severe blow to the industry.

Scientists attributed the deaths to a virus that killed oysters which matured too fast, feeding on abundant plankton.

They said a warm winter and wet spring meant the young oysters of oysters aged 12 to 18 months were growing so fast they were not able to defend themselves.

This left them vulnerable to Oyster Herpesvirus type 1, said the scientists from the French Research Institute for the Exploitation of the Sea (Ifremer).

Jacques Sourbier, regional president of the Loire's national shellfish producers' body, told AFP news agency this year's blight appeared "every bit as worrying and serious as last year".

The plague has decimated beds in the Mediterranean and affected farms as far up the Atlantic coast as Normandy.

Ifremer scientists and maritime ministry experts have carried out tests on deep water oyster beds off the French coast, and hope to have results in about two weeks.

France is the biggest oyster producer in Europe and the fourth biggest in the world, after China, Japan and South Korea, AFP reports.

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