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Maryland Department of the Environment

Anne Arundel County waterways reclassified for shellfish harvesting


Portions of Rhode, West rivers approved for harvesting; four leases affected by change

BALTIMORE (Feb. 10, 2020) – The Maryland Department of the Environment has reclassified portions of the Rhode and West rivers in Anne Arundel County for shellfish harvesting.

More than 1,170 acres – about 490 acres of the Rhode River and about 681 acres of the West River – have been approved for shellfish harvesting.

The changes – which are effective today, Monday, Feb. 10 – are based on a recent evaluation of potential pollution sources and water testing that showed decreased levels of bacteria. Four lease sites, which include about 29 acres of the Rhode River and nearly 36 acres of the West River, are in the reclassified areas.

The reclassified areas had most recently been “conditionally approved” for shellfish harvesting. In conditionally approved areas, 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. Other portions of the rivers further upstream remain either conditionally approved or closed to shellfish harvesting.

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 affected and ensure Maryland remains in compliance with the National Shellfish Sanitation Program.

Shellfish are filter feeders with the ability to filter water and get food from microscopic organisms in the water. If the waters have elevated bacteria levels, the risk is greater that pathogens may be present, and this filtering process can then concentrate any disease-causing organisms. Oysters and clams are often eaten raw or partially cooked and must come from waters that are within acceptable bacteria levels.

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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