France

Security stepped-up as thieves target oyster beds

Peter Gugerell

As Christmas approaches, authorities have increased security around France’s oyster beds in the Arcachon basin on the southwest coast, where the finest oysters grow. An EC-135 helicopter equipped with an infra-red camera is backing up nautical patrols. 

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The increased vigilance is working, according to police. In 2004, 21 tonnes of oysters were declared stolen; so far this year, only 3.3 tonnes have been stolen.

Since 2004, poaching has declined sharply, though oyster farmers admit 2009 was a bad year, when 18 tonnes were surreptitiously harvested from the basin.

Some 8,000 tonnes of oysters are produced by 350 companies each year. Police say about 95 per cent of the thefts are the work of oyster farmers themselves who know the terrain and have the equipment necessary to harvest oysters en masse.

Three cultivators were arrested last year.

Since the beginning of the month, police have also increased surveillance at petrol stations, food depots and shops along France's main freight routes as the transport of champagne, foie gras and oysters increases, and with it the risk of robberies.

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