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Maryland Department of the Environment

MDE issues emergency closure to shellfish harvesting in portion of Potomac River


Order issued after report of sewage spill into Virginia creek that feeds the Potomac

BALTIMORE (Jan. 22, 2022) – The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has issued an emergency order closing a portion of the Potomac River off the Virginia shoreline to shellfish harvesting following a report of a sewage overflow.

The order, issued today, applies to an area of the Potomac River — limited to its west side and not extending to the Maryland shoreline, south of U.S. Route 301 – at the mouth of Upper Machodoc Creek in Virginia. It became effective immediately to prevent the harvesting of oysters and other shellfish in the immediate future.

The closure was issued after Virginia health officials reached out to MDE regarding a sewage overflow today affecting that creek, which flows into the Potomac. Virginia officials report that the overflow has stopped.

Information provided to MDE indicates that shellfish harvesting is not allowed on weekends in the area. MDE believes there are no oyster aquaculture leases in the affected area.

MDE is working in coordination with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Natural Resources Police and the Maryland Department of Health. The department is also in contact with the Potomac River Fisheries Commission. MDE is coordinating with Virginia health and environmental officials on this matter and expects to get updated information next week.  

MDE will remove the emergency closure when the science shows that oysters can be harvested and public health protected. Under regulations, the area must remain closed for 21 days after the sewage spill stops, meaning the area could reopen for shellfish harvesting as soon as Feb. 12. The emergency order does not apply to fishing and crabbing.

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. MDE monitors bacteriological water quality and conducts pollution source surveys to determine which areas are safe for the harvesting of shellfish. Information on shellfish harvesting areas is available on MDE’s website.

Jan. 24, 2022 update: Today, MDE issued its formal notice of the emergency closure, effective Jan. 22. The overflow that was the subject of Virginia officials reaching out to MDE on Saturday, Jan. 22, is said to have occurred Thursday, Jan. 20. A total of 3,800 acres will be closed for the harvesting of shellfish in both Virginia (1,233 acres) and Maryland (2,567 acres). The closure affects four Potomac Rivers Fisheries Commission (PRFC) oyster bars in the Potomac River. MDE has confirmed with PRFC that no harvest in this portion of the river is occurring this season.


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