Waterways in Talbot County reclassified for shellfish harvesting



Sections of Harris, Cummings creeks closed to harvesting


BALTIMORE (May 18, 2020) – The Maryland Department of the Environment has reclassified waterways in Talbot County for shellfish harvesting.

About 428 acres of Harris Creek and about 71 acres of Cummings Creek have been reclassified from approved for shellfish harvesting to restricted, or closed, to direct harvesting. The reclassifications are effective May 18.

The reclassifications are due to recent routine evaluations of fecal bacteria levels in portions of the waterways. The Department of the Environment regularly monitors bacteriological water quality and conducts pollution source surveys to determine which areas are safe for the harvesting of shellfish. 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.

There are three oyster leases and one proposed lease, covering a total of about 27 acres, affected by these reclassifications. The Department of the Environment reached out to the lease holders and the prospective lease holders prior to the reclassifications.

Lease holders can obtain a relay permit under which shellfish can be harvested from closed areas if the oysters are moved, or relayed, to another lease in approved waters to ensure that the oysters naturally cleanse themselves so they can be harvested and sold to consumers. The lease holders affected by this reclassification also have leases in approved waters for relay.

The reclassifications do not change the designation of Harris Creek 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 and human 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. 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. The department has a longstanding policy to reopen areas to shellfish harvesting when water quality improves.

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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