French oyster farmer’s clever trick to stop seasonal theft

Oysters are commonly eaten in France during the end of year festivities, and their popularity can make oyster farmers a target for thieves... but one has a neat way to gain information

28 December 2020
Trays of oysters on a table. French farmer’s clever trick to stop December oyster theftOysters are traditionally eaten during celebrations for Christmas and New Year's Eve in France
By Jo York

Oyster farmers in France are often targeted by thieves in December, who hope to resell stolen stock while oysters are at peak popularity during the festive season. But farmer Christophe Guinot has come up with an ingenious scheme to prevent his oysters from being stolen.

Mr Guinot, who farms oysters in l’étang de Leucate in Occitanie, hides a number of sealed “trick” oysters in his catch. Inside, the contents of the oyster shell are replaced with a piece of paper which reads “You have won your weight in oysters”, along with Mr Guinot’s contact details.

Mr Guinot then glues the trick oysters shut so they are indistinguishable from the rest of his stock. 

Then, when consumers who have bought stolen stock find the message inside an oyster and get in touch to claim their prize, it is easier for Mr Guinot trace their purchase back to the original thieves and alert the police.

He told news source France 3: “The point is not to corner thieves, but to dissuade them."

(Video: France 3 Occitanie)

Plan hatched after rising theft

Mr Guinot started using the trick oysters in 2016, after a large number of his oysters were stolen. He said: “I lost three tonnes in one week. Some of my colleagues lost one tonne or 500 kilos. We needed to find a solution.”

At this time oyster thefts were common in the area. Deputy commander of the Leucate nautical brigade Frédéric Baquier said: “Before 2016 we registered a lot of thefts of oysters. This often happened at the end of the year because there is such demand.”

As oysters are synonymous with Christmas and New Year celebrations in France, thefts in December can be particularly ruinous for many oyster farmers, who rely on high end-of-year sales.

 

Increased surveillance dissuading thieves

Since 2016, increased surveillance has lessened the problem in Leucate. Nautical brigades and the maritime gendarmerie now patrol the area night and day in the run-up to the festive season, to protect the 25 farmers who work there.

In 2017, 19 thefts were recorded. This dropped to nine in 2018, and six in 2019. 

Mr Guinot’s scheme may have helped too – none of his stock has been stolen since he started hiding the secret messages inside his trick oysters.

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