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Maryland Department of the Environment

Kent Narrows temporarily opening for shellfish harvesting


Recent water quality investigation, minimal boating activities in winter justify temporary opening; separate waterway in St. Mary’s County reclassified for shellfish harvesting; both changes effective Monday

BALTIMORE (Jan. 26, 2022) – The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is temporarily reclassifying waters in the Kent Narrows in Queen Anne’s County from closed to open to allow shellfish to be harvested.

The change is effective Monday, Jan. 31. The opening will remain in effect until the end of the 2022 oyster season as determined by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. At that time the area will again be closed to harvesting.

The Kent Narrows are usually closed to shellfish harvesting due to the high volume of boats, marinas and onshore activities in the area with the potential to negatively affect shellfish water quality. However, during winter boating activities are minimal and the effect on water quality is reduced. An investigation of the water quality shows that this area meets the strict requirements necessary for shellfish harvesting waters and for the direct harvest of oysters and clams. This area was also temporarily opened for shellfish harvesting, most recently, in the winters of 2018 and 2017.

Separately, a recent routine evaluation of shellfish waters in St. Clements Bay in St. Mary’s County has resulted in the reclassification of a portion of that waterway. About 186 acres will be reclassified from approved for shellfish harvesting to conditionally approved, also effective Monday, Jan. 31. 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.

There is one aquaculture lease in the area being reclassified as conditionally approved. MDE has contacted the lease holder.

The reclassifications are due to recent evaluations of bacteria levels in portions of the waterways. MDE 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.

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. 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.

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