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Maryland Department of the Environment

Additional Areas Closed to Shellfish Harvesting Near Smith Island


Jay Apperson

(410) 537-3003

Additional Areas Closed to Shellfish Harvesting Near Smith Island

Waters reclassified due to elevated bacteria levels, risk from sewage treatment plants

Baltimore, MD (February 24, 2015) – The Maryland Department of the Environment has expanded the area of water closed to shellfish harvesting near Smith Island in Somerset County.

The Department has closed waters near the north end of the island and waters on the south end, including the southern end of Tyler Creek extending to the border with Virginia. About 1,900 acres of water that had previously been approved for shellfish harvesting have been reclassified as restricted, meaning that they are closed to shellfish harvesting. The change became effective Monday, February 23, through notice to regulating authorities and stakeholders. Other Smith Island waterways that had previously been classified as restricted remain closed to shellfish harvesting.

MDE conducts regular surveys to identify potential pollution sources near shellfish harvesting waters. The change is necessary due to elevated bacterial levels observed in these waters and the risk presented by the Ewell-Rhodes Point and Tylerton wastewater treatment facilities, which serve the homes on Smith Island. Data submitted to MDE show that those facilities have periodically exceeded effluent limits in their discharge permits. MDE provided a $30,000 grant to Somerset County to help fund planning for an upgrade of the facilities.

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.