Press Release

BALTIMORE, MD (September 22, 2003) – Due to unprecedented coastal flooding as a result of Hurricane Isabel, the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) has issued an emergency closure of shellfish harvesting in Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay, including all tributaries. All waters of the Chesapeake Bay and tributaries will be closed to shellfish harvesting effective today, Monday Sept. 22, 2003.

The closure is a direct result of extreme high tides and flooding experienced bay-wide in Maryland from Hurricane Isabel. The closure will remain in effect through at least Sunday, Sept. 28, unless on-going water quality monitoring indicates additional problems. The closure will impact shellfish harvesting only and does not apply to fishing, or crabbing.

“The law requires the department to close areas that do not meet the strict water quality standards necessary for shellfish harvesting waters,” said MDE Acting Secretary Kendl P. Philbrick. “This action is necessary to prevent potential harmful effects from consumption of shellfish exposed to untreated or partially treated sewage. This action will assure the continuance of Maryland's excellent reputation for wholesome shellfish products and maintain compliance with the National Shellfish Sanitation Program.”

Reports received from MDE field personnel today indicate unprecedented tidal flooding. Disease-causing organisms were possibly released from septic and sewer systems during the flooding, and combined with runoff from receding tides, can have potentially negative impact to shellfish water quality.

Shellfish (oysters & clams) are filter feeders and can concentrate disease-causing organisms associated with raw sewage and other sources. Most areas impacted over the weekend by sewage overflows were previously closed to harvesting. Seaside coastal bays near Assateaque Island and Ocean City were not affected with the tidal surge that impacted the Chesapeake Bay and are not included in this emergency closure.

Maryland’s oyster season does not begin until Oct. 1 and it is anticipated that the effects on shellfish water quality from Isabel will have dissipated by that time.

For additional information please call 1 (800) 541-1210.