June 23, 2016


Portions of Harris and Cummings creeks, Rhode River closed to harvesting

BALTIMORE, MD (June 23, 2016)

The Maryland Department of the Environment has reclassified three waterways in Talbot, Anne Arundel and St. Mary’s counties for shellfish harvesting.

About 67 acres of the Northwest Branch of Harris Creek and about 68 acres of Cummings Creek, both in Talbot County, have been reclassified from approved for shellfish harvesting to “restricted,” effective June 20, 2016. A 1,031-acre portion of the Rhode River in Anne Arundel County has been reclassified from “conditionally approved” to restricted, also effective June 20. A 68.5-acre portion of Jutland Creek in St. Mary’s County has been reclassified from approved for shellfish harvesting to conditionally approved.

In areas that are conditionally approved oysters and clams can be harvested at any time with the exception of any rain event of one inch or more, which requires that the area be closed for three days and then re-opened unless another rain event occurred during that time. A restricted classification means shellfish cannot be directly harvested from the area.

Several leases are located in the newly reclassified areas. Harvesting will not be permitted in restricted areas unless the lease holders apply for a relay permit from the Department of the Environment. Under that permit, shellfish can be harvested from closed areas if the oysters are moved, or relayed, to another lease in approved waters for at least two weeks during the time of year when the oysters are actively pumping water through their bodies. This ensures that the oysters naturally cleanse themselves so they can be harvested and sold to consumers.

The reclassifications are due to recent evaluations showing unacceptable bacteria levels in portions of the waterways. The Department of the Environment conducts regular surveys to identify potential pollution sources near shellfish harvesting waters, but the cause of an increase in bacteria levels is not always known, and no specific cause has been identified for the increased levels in these areas.

Information on shellfish harvesting areas is available on the department’s website. These designations apply only to the harvesting of shellfish (oysters and clams); they do not apply to fishing or crabbing.Consumption advisories for recreationally caught fish and crabs can also be found on the department’s website.

The Department of the Environment monitors bacteriological water quality and conducts pollution source surveys to determine which areas are safe for the harvesting of shellfish. The department is required to close areas that do not meet the strict water quality standards for shellfish harvesting waters and it has a longstanding policy to reopen areas to shellfish harvesting when water quality improves.

Shellfish are filter feeders with the ability to filter water and get food from microscopic organisms in the water. If the waters are polluted, this filtering process can concentrate disease-causing organisms associated with raw sewage and other sources, such as animal waste. Oysters and clams are often eaten raw or partially cooked and must come from waters that are not polluted.

These actions are necessary to protect public health by preventing harvest from the areas impacted and ensure Maryland remains in compliance with the National Shellfish Sanitation Program.

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