Published Wednesday, 24 July 2013
DARD has confirmed that positive test results have been returned for the Ostreid Herpes Virus.
The virus, which officials say originated in France, has been widely detected in Lough Foyle, Carlingford Lough, Killough Bay and Strangford Lough.
"Research to date has not identified any method to combat the mortalities, which appear to be linked to rising water temperatures," a DARD spokesperson said.
"The virus appears to lie latent until water temperatures reach 15-16C, at which stage the oysters begin to die very quickly."
We could potentially be looking at the total decimation of oyster farming as we know it in Carlingford Lough. This is a very serious situation.
Seán Rogers, SDLP
Water temperatures have risen to 20C in recent days, which has reduced oxygen levels.
South Down SDLP MLA Seán Rogers says it is a devastating situation for oyster farmers.
"One farmer has lost 80% of his stock in just two days, which is essentially three years of hard work - in often very difficult conditions - gone," he said.
"These farmers need assistance and they need it fast in order to begin re-building their livelihoods. I have made urgent representations to the Minister in support of these farmers."
DARD has confirmed that there are no measures available for compensation or restocking, either through DARD or under European funding.
The department says that, through the European Fisheries Fund, it has assisted the taking forward of a project which aims to investigate possible farming techniques to limit the spread of the virus.
DARD is sympathetic to producers affected by any disease outbreak and Fish Health Inspectorate are always available to offer advice and assistance.
The Pacific oyster industry produced 136.68 tonnes in 2011 and was valued at around £545,600.
The shellfish industry as a whole was estimated to value approximately £6.3m.
Invertebrate viruses are not known to affect humans and the Food Standards Agency is not aware of any reports of human illness associated with this virus.
"DARD is committed to maintaining our high fish health status and operates comprehensive disease control measures," a spokesperson added.
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