Waterways in Dorchester County Reclassified for Shellfish Harvesting
Section of Slaughter Creek closed to harvesting, portions of Hudson Creek, Little Choptank River “conditionally approved”
BALTIMORE, MD (April 9, 2019) – The Maryland Department of the Environment has reclassified waterways in Dorchester County for shellfish harvesting.
About 566 acres of Slaughter Creek have been reclassified from approved for shellfish harvesting to restricted, or closed, to direct harvesting. About 363 acres in the upper portion of the Little Choptank River and about 976 acres of Hudson Creek have been reclassified from approved to conditionally approved for direct harvesting. 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 affected areas were reclassified effective yesterday, April 8, through notice to regulating authorities and stakeholders.
The reclassifications are due to recent evaluations of 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 this area.
Three leases, all held by the same leaseholder, are located in the area reclassified as conditionally approved. The reclassification does not change the Department of Natural Resources designation of a portion of the reclassified area in the Little Choptank River as an oyster sanctuary. Sanctuaries are areas where the wild harvest of oysters is prohibited.
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 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. 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.
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.
# # #