BALTIMORE, MD (February 5, 2009) – A recent evaluation of shellfish harvesting waters in the Choptank River in Talbot and Dorchester Counties shows elevated bacteria levels. Therefore, Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) will close the area to harvesting effective February 9, 2009. MDE monitors bacteriological water quality and conducts pollution source surveys to determine which areas are safe for the harvesting of shellfish. These closures will impact molluscan shellfish harvesting only and do not apply to swimming, fishing, or crabbing in that area. The main stem of the Choptank River above the Route 50 Bridge from Chancellor Point upstream to Jamaica Point is reclassified from “approved to restricted.”
Shellfish (oysters and clams) are filter feeders with the ability to filter water and get their food from the various microscopic organisms found in the water column. If the water is polluted, the filtering process can potentially include viruses or bacteria with the potential to cause illnesses to humans. Oysters and clams are often eaten raw or partially cooked and must come from waters that are not polluted.
MDE frequently monitors bacteriological water quality and conducts pollution source surveys to determine which areas are safe for harvesting of oysters and clams. The department is required to close areas that do not meet the strict water quality standards for shellfish harvesting waters and has a long-standing policy to open areas to shellfish harvesting when water quality improves. These actions ensure continuance of Maryland’s reputation for safe and wholesome seafood products and maintain compliance with the National Shellfish Sanitation Program.
A shoreline survey of potential sources of bacteria contamination did not identify any direct pollution sources. MDE will continue to investigate potential pollution sources and monitor shellfish water quality in that area. Once bacteria levels improve, MDE can reopen the Choptank River to harvesting.
A map of the area is available at http://mde.maryland.gov/assets/document/Shellfish_Closing_Choptank_River_2-2009.pdf.