Many consumers became ill around Christmas after eating oysters from the Arcachon Basin. A few days before the New Year, the Gironde prefecture had therefore temporarily banned the sale of all the shellfish that were raised there. For the oyster farmers concerned, the shortfall is enormous. There is serious concern among all professionals in the sector, who more broadly fear a crisis of consumer confidence.

In a press release published on December 27, the Gironde prefecture reported “several cases of collective food poisoning” and revealed “the presence of norovirus” in oysters from the Arcachon basin. “The symptoms are those of acute gastroenteritis and no serious cases have been reported to date,” said the prefecture.

Oyster farmers strongly emphasize this: it is not the health quality of their products that is in question. The profession is “victim of the saturation of wastewater and rainwater networks”, which generates “overflows into the natural environment”, thus contaminating the oyster farms, according to the Arcachon Aquitaine Regional Shellfish Farming Committee (CRCAA) . In two and a half months, it rained some 550 millimeters of water in the area, compared to 800 millimeters per year generally, Olivier Laban, president of the CRCAA and oyster farmer in Gujan-Mestras, told Agence France-Presse (AFP). . “The sanitation system overflowed and the dirty water migrated to the lowest point, the pond water,” he explained. “We have difficulty swallowing [the ban on sales] because we have nothing to do with it, my colleagues and I have done our job well,” insisted the representative of the profession.

“These temporary bans are not at all linked to the work of shellfish farmers,” confirmed the Secretary of State for the Sea, Hervé Berville, in an interview with Ouest-France on December 31. The number one issue is indeed the investment of local authorities in [wastewater] treatment systems. We will make points with communities to accelerate investments where necessary. »

In Normandy, two very limited sectors of Calvados and Manche have also been affected by a temporary sales ban since December 29. These are the productions of Grandcamp-Maisy and Géfosse-Fontenay, in the district of Bayeux, and those of Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, in the north-east of Cotentin.

These bans are justified by the same reasons as in Gironde, namely “cases of collective food poisoning”, the prefectures announced in two separate press releases. “Traceability surveys and analyses” carried out in Calvados show “that contamination of oysters (…) is involved”, according to the prefecture of this department, which did not give further details. “These measures will be lifted as soon as the health quality of the shellfish becomes fully satisfactory again,” added the prefecture.

The Vendée prefecture, for its part, banned fishing and consumption of shellfish from the Payré channel area, in Talmont-Saint-Hilaire, on January 3, “due to the presence of norovirus,” d ‘after a press release. “The ban will apply until a satisfactory health situation is restored,” added the prefecture, again without giving a more precise deadline. The time limit is generally twenty-eight days for this type of contamination, a producer told AFP.

These bans, although temporary, are a hard blow for professionals in the sector, because the end-of-year holidays constitute their main sales period. Oyster farmers in the Arcachon basin estimate their losses at around 8 million euros and want to be partially compensated. “Today, we have to know who is going to pay the bill,” said Mr. Laban, once again denouncing the communities managing the sanitation network, “which has shown its limits.” “We are not asking for reimbursement of the entire turnover, only the lost gross margin” because, once the water quality is restored, the oysters can again be offered for sale.

Mr. Berville assured Ouest-France that a crisis meeting was held on December 28 with the Minister of Agriculture, Marc Fesneau. According to the Secretary of State for the Sea, meetings with representatives of the sector were to take place this week “to define the support that will be put in place”. “We are waiting for a precise estimate of the loss of turnover and are considering additional aid for the affected companies”, which are “in no way responsible”, insisted Mr. Berville. The Minister for Public Accounts, Thomas Cazenave, declared on January 3 on the social network towards the affected oyster farmers, in particular by granting payment deadlines for tax and social security deadlines.

In addition to the financial consequences, oyster farmers fear consumer disaffection. “People are no longer buying (…) There is general panic, when we are not even in 10% of contaminated areas” compared to the entire national production, he apologized to the ‘AFP Philippe Le Gal, president of the National Shellfish Farming Committee (CNC): “The damage is done, trust is broken. »