Carlingford Lough oyster farmer faces ruin after £350k worth of shellfish are wiped out by ostreid herpes virus
An oyster farmer who lost £350,000 worth of stock in two days following the outbreak of a virus in Carlingford Lough says his business is facing ruin.
Darren Cunningham fears at least 80% of his juvenile stock has been decimated by ostreid herpes, a virus caused by rising water temperatures.
Mr Cunningham, who is from Annalong, has been farming oysters for 20 years and his business now supplies outlets in France, Germany and Italy. But he claims it is now facing an uncertain future.
"We've been hammered – absolutely hammered," he said.
"I had €400,000 (approx £346,000) of stock gone in just two days."
The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (Dard) said ostreid herpes was detected on Wednesday following a sample of dead Pacific oysters. The virus causes oysters to die when water temperatures rise above 16C.
Dard said the deaths were linked to the hot weather.
Mr Cunningham said that he and his neighbour, Harold Henning, have both been hit hard.
"I've a conservative estimate of 80% loss, but I could easily be left with nothing." Oysters are Mr Cunningham's sole livelihood, and he fears for the future of his family-run business, Killowen Shellfish.
"I just don't know what I'm going to do. This has hammered us.
"It has gone past a crisis."
His neighbour Mr Henning, who runs a shellfish business in Kilkeel, said his new stock has been devastated
"I wouldn't be a bit surprised if, by the time the month is out, I have 100% loss," he said.
Dard has indicated there is no compensation scheme in place for lost stocks.
South Down MLA Sean Rogers has called for the farmers to be compensated.
"When a tragedy like this hits, and wipes out the livelihoods of these people, then something needs to be done," he said.
A virus which causes oysters to die when sea water temperatures rise, ostreid herpes, has been found in Carlingford Lough (right). According to the Department of Agriculture, the virus appears to lie latent until water temperatures reach 16C, at which stage the oysters die. Temperatures have hit 20C recently which has reduced dissolved oxygen levels in areas where oysters are grown.