St. Mary’s County Waterways Reclassified for Shellfish Harvesting
Portions of Smith and Jutland creeks closed to harvesting
BALTIMORE, MD (April 9, 2018) – The Maryland Department of the Environment has reclassified portions of Smith and Jutland creeks in St. Mary’s County for shellfish harvesting.
About 115 acres of Smith Creek have been reclassified as “restricted,” meaning the area is closed to shellfish harvesting. About 9.7 acres of a portion of Jutland Creek that is known as Fox Harbor have also been reclassified as restricted.
The changes – which are effective today, Monday, April 9 – 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.
Several leases are located in the newly restricted area. Harvesting will not be permitted 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.
The reclassified portion of Smith Creek had previously been approved for shellfish harvesting. The reclassified portion of Jutland Creek had previously been classified as “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 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.
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 molluscan shellfish (oysters and clams); they do not apply to fishing, crabbing or swimming. Consumption advisories for recreationally caught fish and crabs can also be found on the department’s website.
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