Anne Arundel County Waterway Reclassified for Shellfish Harvesting
Portion of Rhode River section closed in 2016 now “conditionally approved”; change allows leaseholders to resume harvesting
Baltimore, MD (December 4, 2017) – The Maryland Department of the Environment has reclassified a portion of the Rhode River in Anne Arundel County for shellfish harvesting.
About 185 acres of the river have been reclassified from “restricted to shellfish harvesting” to “conditionally approved.” That part of the river – downstream from Big Island, which is south of Sheepshead Cove – is part of a larger portion of the river that was closed to shellfish harvesting in 2016 due to evaluations of bacteria levels in the river.
The change – which is effective today, Monday, Dec. 4 – is based on a recent evaluation of potential pollution sources and water testing that showed decreased levels of bacteria.
The June 2016 closure of more than 1,000 acres of the Rhode River affected seven lease sites. A November 2016 reclassification of 257 acres of that area of the river allowed normal operations to resume at four of the sites. This reclassification allows normal operations to resume at two more sites.
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 an affected area be closed for three days and then re-opened unless another rain event occurred during that time.
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.
Other portions of the river further upstream remain closed to direct harvesting. 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.
Shellfish are filter feeders with the ability to filter water and get food from microscopic organisms in the water. If the waters have elevated bacteria levels, the risk is greater that pathogens may be present, and this filtering process can then concentrate any disease-causing organisms. Oysters and clams are often eaten raw or partially cooked and must come from waters that are within acceptable bacteria levels.
These actions are necessary to protect public health by preventing harvest from the areas affected and ensure Maryland remains in compliance with the National Shellfish Sanitation Program.
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.
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