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Maryland Department of the Environment

Portions of Maryland waterways reclassified for shellfish harvesting


Portion of Talbot County waterway to open for shellfish harvesting; other reclassifications affect waterways in St. Mary’s, Somerset, Wicomico counties

BALTIMORE (May 6, 2022) – The Maryland Department of the Environment has approved a portion of an Eastern Shore waterway for shellfish harvesting.

About 128 acres of Blackwalnut Cove, at Tilghman Island in Talbot County, that were closed to shellfish harvesting are now open for direct harvesting. That reclassification was one of a series affecting portions of waterways in four Maryland counties. The reclassifications are effective Monday, May 9.

A 65-acre portion of Smith Creek in St. Mary’s County is being reclassified from restricted, or closed to direct shellfish harvesting, to conditionally approved for 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.

There are five existing shellfish leases and two proposed leases in the reclassified area of Smith Creek. MDE contacted the leaseholders and applicants prior to the reclassification.

Just less than 340 acres of the Wicomico River in Somerset and Wicomico counties will be reclassified from approved to conditionally approved. MDE contacted the holders of the six leases in these waters prior to the reclassification.

The reclassifications are 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 the Wicomico River.

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 (NSSP).

These reclassifications do 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 and automatically updated on the mobile app iShellfish. 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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