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Maryland Department of the Environment

Portion of Dorchester Co. waterway reclassified as restricted from shellfish harvesting


Portion of Fishing Creek, Little Choptank River reclassified due to potential public health risk associated with failing wastewater system

BALTIMORE (June 13, 2022) – The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has reclassified a portion of a waterway in Dorchester County to close it to shellfish harvesting.

About 1,290 acres of waters in the Fishing Creek area of the Little Choptank River have been reclassified from conditionally approved for direct shellfish harvesting to restricted from shellfish harvesting. The closure is due to the potential risk to public health associated with the discharge of partially treated wastewater from a nearby sewage disposal system that is failing.

There are no shellfish leases in the area that has been reclassified. Because the Little Choptank River, including Fishing Creek, is an oyster sanctuary, no public fishery will be affected.

An overflow of partially treated wastewater from the McKeil Point No. 1 Bermed Infiltration Pond (BIP) is discharging into tidal ditches within 600 feet of Fishing Creek. BIPs are part of a conventional sewage disposal system in which treated sewage effluent is discharged to a pond structure that intersects shallow groundwater. The water level of the McKiel Point No. 1 BIP is at the top of the berm, which is causing intermittent overflows.

MDE has actively worked with the Dorchester County Sanitary District to develop a plan for lowering the effluent level in the BIP via pumping haulers. The water level has been lowered, but the potential for overflows during heavy rains remains, requiring the closure to shellfish harvesting. The restriction will remain in place for at least 21 days after the discharge is eliminated.

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 (NSSP).

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 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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