Waterways in Somerset, Wicomico counties reclassified for shellfish harvesting
Portion of Wicomico River opened to harvesting, areas of Big Annemessex River and Hall Creek closed
Baltimore, MD (April 25, 2016) – The Maryland Department of the Environment has reclassified three waterways in Somerset and Wicomico counties for shellfish harvesting.
An 821-acre portion of the Wicomico River in Wicomico and Somerset counties has been reclassified from “restricted” to “approved” to allow oysters and clams to be harvested. The headwaters of the river remain classified as restricted, meaning that they are closed to shellfish harvesting. Ellis Bay and its tributaries, along with a portion of the Wicomico River near the Bay and that portion’s tributaries, also remain classified as restricted.
The change – which is effective today, Monday, April 25 – is based on a recent evaluation of potential pollution sources and testing of the waters and shellfish that showed decreased levels of indicator bacteria.
About 121 acres of the Big Annemessex River in Somerset County and 20 acres of Hall Creek, a tributary, are reclassified from conditionally approved to restricted, also effective today.
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 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 reclassification from conditionally approved to restricted is 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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