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Maryland Department of the Environment

Portions of St. Mary’s County waterway reclassified as restricted from shellfish harvesting


Reclassifications affect portions of St. Mary’s River; portions of waterways in Dorchester, Somerset counties also reclassified; actions are necessary to protect public health and ensure Maryland remains in compliance with the National Shellfish Sanitation Program

BALTIMORE (May 27, 2022) – The Maryland Department of the Environment has reclassified portions of a waterway in St. Mary’s County to close them to shellfish harvesting.

About 260 acres of waters in the St. Mary’s River will be reclassified from conditionally approved for direct shellfish harvesting to restricted from shellfish harvesting. Another 165 acres of the river’s tributaries, in two separate areas, will be reclassified from approved to conditionally approved.

Also, about 155 acres in the Honga River in Dorchester County will be reclassified from approved to conditionally approved. 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 reclassifications are effective May 30.

There are five shellfish leases in the areas being reclassified from approved to conditionally approved. MDE contacted the leaseholders and applicants prior to the reclassification.

About 80 acres of the Hall Creek portion of the Annemessex River in Somerset County are also being reclassified. Shellfish harvesting in that area had been prohibited due to its proximity to the Fairmount Wastewater Treatment Plant. That plant has been decommissioned and is no longer discharging to the river, and sufficient time has passed that the waters can be reclassified based on water quality. The bacteria levels in the area meet the standard for a restricted classification, which is also effective May 30.

St. Mary’s River map one

St. Mary’s River map two

St. Mary’s River map three

Honga River map

Hall Creek map

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 these areas.

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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