France's 4,796 oyster farmers are having to cope with a serious labour shortage as the market enters its busiest time of the year.

910,000 tonnes of French oysters, representing 70% of annual production, are consumed during the Christmas and New Year period.

The second half of December sees businesses working at a production line rhythm in order to meet seasonal demand.

However, each year fewer and fewer people are attracted to this type of employment which ranges from counting and arranging oysters in baskets of two to four dozen, at a rate of 80 kilos an hour on average and pays just a little above the minimum wage.

So short is the work period that it is hard to generate interest among the unemployed who risk seeing their welfare benefits reduced.

In the Marennes-Oleron Basin, almost 1,700 jobs remain vacant and it's a similar picture in southern Brittany and the Arcachon Basin.

Trade associations are to lobby the government to introduce a system similar to that for the grape harvests which gives the unemployed the possibility to earn a temporary wage while maintaining welfare benefits.