Portion of Choptank River Approved for Shellfish Harvesting
Area reclassified due to decreased bacteria levels; change allows shellfish harvesting from oyster lease
Baltimore, MD (May 8, 2017) – The Maryland Department of the Environment has reclassified a portion of the Choptank River in Dorchester and Talbot counties as approved for shellfish harvesting. The reclassification does not change the Department of Natural Resources designation of the area as an oyster sanctuary, but the area includes an oyster lease where shellfish will now be approved for harvest.
The reclassification, which affects about 1,428 acres, is effective today, May 8. Goose Creek and Indian Creek, small tributaries to this section of the Choptank River, and the upper portion of the Choptank River near the town of Secretary remain closed to shellfish harvesting.
Sanctuaries are areas where the wild harvest of oysters is prohibited. As shellfish aquaculture operations provide many of the same benefits that natural oyster bars provide, current law allows the Department of Natural Resources to issue aquaculture leases in oyster sanctuaries.
The reclassification of the portion of the Choptank River is due to recent evaluations that showed decreased bacteria levels. 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.
The evaluation and classification of waters for shellfish harvesting is necessary to protect public health 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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