Movement ban after virus is found in Kent oyster stocks

The movement of oysters from parts of the Kent coast has been banned after a form of herpes wiped out shellfish stocks at a Whitstable farm.

Fish health inspectors visited Seasalter Shellfish in the town after the producer reported a high mortality rate in its Pacific oyster stocks.

They said samples tested positive for the OsHV-1 virus which has decimated stocks in France in recent years.

A containment area has been declared in The Swale, Thames and north Kent coast.

'It is catastrophic'

It is thought to be the first time the disease, which has no cure, has been found in stocks in the UK.

Seasalter Shellfish managing director John Bayes said: "It is catastrophic in as much as we were right at the beginning of a new thrust to reinstate the Pacific oyster in a big way.

"We've invested a huge amount of money in it and were very hopeful that we would for the first time in perhaps a century have a continuing and plentiful supply of oysters but it's not meant to be."

A spokeswoman for the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science said: "OsHV-1 is an emerging disease that has been associated with high levels of mortality in Pacific oysters in France, Jersey and some bays in the Republic of Ireland.

"There are no implications for human health.

"Any suspicion of the presence of OsHV-1 in Pacific oysters should be immediately reported."

In 2008 France's main marine research institute, Ifremer, set up a crisis team to find out why 40 to 100% of oysters aged 12 to 18 months were dying in all but one of France's breeding areas.

The team established that a virus called OsHV-1 (Oyster Herpesvirus type 1) was killing young oysters, helped by unfavourable weather conditions that weakened the molluscs.

The disease was reported in Jersey oyster stocks in 2009.

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