Calls have been made for a cross-border approach to assist in the oyster disaster in the Carlingford Lough region. South Down SDLP MLA Seán Rogers has made called this morning, following an outbreak of a virus last month, which he says, is destroying oyster farming in the region.

“Following the initial reports of the loss of oysters on the northern shores of Carlingford Lough to the OsHV virus further farmers have come forward and reported similar losses. This is devastating for the whole industry,” he said.

“I have already made contact with Stormont’s Agriculture Minister calling for assistance and also a face-to-face meeting with these farmers with a view to developing a plan for these farmers with a way forward.

“I have also approached the Southern Government’s Minister with responsibility for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food – Simon Coveney TD calling on him to assist and work out a North/South strategy for dealing with this, as this has affected farmers on both sides of the border,” Rogers added.

The Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) confirmed an outbreak of Ostreid Herpes VirusOsHV1-µvar, on one site in Carlingford Lough late last month. The confirmation following a sample of dead Pacific Oysters (the Crassostrea Gigas type) showing positive results yesterday evening when tested by the Agri- Food and Biosciences Institute in Dundonald, Co Down.

OsHV1-µvar originated in France and has been detected in Ireland since 2009 causing significant mortalities from time to time in Pacific oysters. The north of Ireland had a limited number of outbreaks but the virus has been widely detected in Lough Foyle, Carlingford Lough, Killough Bay and Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland.

Research to date has not identified any method to combat the mortalities, which appear to be linked to rising water temperatures. The virus appears to lie latent until water temperatures reach 15 to 16 degrees at which stage the oysters begin to die very quickly. Temperatures have risen to 20 degrees in recent days, which has significantly reduced dissolved oxygen levels in shallow areas where oysters are grown.

“Such temperatures are not unusually warm, but combined with the presence of the virus, and calm weather which inhibits oxygen mixing into the water column, conditions have resulted in oyster mortalities,” DARD explained.

DARD has also confirmed that there are no measures available for compensation or restocking through its department or under European funding.

“We has assisted industry through the European Fisheries Fund for a project taken forward by the Cross-Border Aquaculture Initiative Team, in conjunction with Pacific oyster farmers.  The disease control project aims to compile baseline data for the Pacific oyster industry and investigate possible farming techniques to try to limit risk of spread of this virsus,” it said.

“DARD is sympathetic to producers affected by any disease outbreak and Fish Health Inspectorate are always available to offer advice and assistance. DARD is committed to maintaining our high fish health status and operates comprehensive disease control measures,” it added.

The Pacific oyster industry in Northern Ireland produced 136.68 tonnes in 2011 and was valued at approximately £545,600 sterling.  The shellfish industry as a whole was estimated to value approximately £6.2m sterling (includes mussels, oysters and scallops).

Invertebrate viruses are not known to affect humans and the Northern Ireland Food Standards Agency is not aware of any reports of human illness associated with this virus.

SDLP MLA Sean Rogers has spoken out in support of the horrendous circumstances that some local oyster farmers find themselves in. The MLA is raising concerns that possible more farms will be become infected and has called for greater and immediate resources into research to combat the issue and is calling for an immediate cross-border approach to tackle the issue.