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Maryland Department of the Environment

Portion of Talbot County waterway reclassified as restricted for shellfish harvesting


BALTIMORE (March 11, 2022) – The Maryland Department of the Environment has reclassified a portion of a waterway in Talbot County to close it to shellfish harvesting.

One hundred and ninety three acres of waters in Irish Creek will be reclassified from conditionally approved for direct shellfish harvesting to restricted for shellfish 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. A restricted classification means that no direct harvest of oysters or clams is permitted.

The reclassification is effective Monday, March 14.

There are three oyster leases in the area being reclassified. MDE contacted the leaseholders prior to the reclassification. Leaseholders 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.

The reclassification is 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.

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.

This reclassification does not impact harvest in other approved or conditionally approved harvest areas. As a protection to consumers, all shellfish are to be tagged by harvesters and dealers as required under the NSSP. Tags include the date and location of harvest and, in Maryland, can only come from approved or conditionally approved waters.

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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