Press Release

BALTIMORE, MD (December 20, 2010) – The Maryland Department of the Environment has closed a portion of the Little Choptank River for shellfish harvesting, after a recent evaluation of the waters there showed elevated levels of bacteria.

The closure -- which is effective today -- affects the headwaters of the Little Choptank River, along with Gary Creek, Lee Creek, and Smith Cove.

Areas of the Little Choptank west of Smith Cove remain conditionally approved for shellfish harvesting, meaning that oysters and clams cannot be harvested for three days following a rainfall event of one inch or greater over 24 hours, but can be harvested at all other times.

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 ensure Maryland maintains its reputation for safe and wholesome seafood products and remains in compliance with the National Shellfish Sanitation Program. 

A recent evaluation of shellfish harvesting waters in the Little Choptank River showed elevated bacteria levels. No direct pollution sources were identified; non-point source runoff from the area is the apparent cause of the elevated bacteria levels. MDE will continue to monitor water quality in the area.

Shellfish (oysters and clams) 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 viruses or bacteria that are potentially harmful to people. Oysters and clams are often eaten raw or partially cooked and must come from waters that are not polluted. 

The closing does not affect fishing or crabbing in the area.

A map of the area is available on MDE’s website. The website also includes a Shellfish Harvesting Waters Conditional Closure Log.