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Maryland Department of the Environment

Waterways in Dorchester County Reclassified for Shellfish Harvesting


Jay Apperson
(410) 537-3003



Hurst Creek, Whitehall Creek, portion of upper Choptank River closed to harvesting


BALTIMORE, MD (August 28, 2014) – The Maryland Department of the Environment is reclassifying portions of waterways in Dorchester County for shellfish harvesting.

The Hurst Creek and Whitehall Creek areas and a portion of the upper Choptank River, which had been approved for shellfish harvesting, have been reclassified as restricted, meaning that they are closed to shellfish harvesting. The change is due to recent evaluations showing unacceptable bacteria levels in portions of the waterways. About 308 acres of the waterways are affected by this change. The newly restricted areas are within an oyster sanctuary, meaning that commercial harvesting of oysters was already restricted. This reclassification means that other shellfish such as clams also cannot be harvested.

The changes became effective Monday, August, 25, through notice to regulating authorities and stakeholders.

MDE 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 MDE’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 MDE’s website.

MDE 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.