BALTIMORE, MD (December 2, 2005) – Due to a recent evaluation of shellfish harvesting waters that shows unacceptable bacteria levels in Lecompte Creek off the Choptank River in Dorchester County, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has issued a closure to shellfish harvesting effective Dec. 12.
The closure will only impact shellfish harvesting (oysters and clams) and does not apply to swimming, fishing, or crabbing in the area.
“The law requires the department to close areas that do not meet the strict water quality standards necessary for shellfish harvesting waters,” said MDE Secretary Kendl P. Philbrick. “This action is necessary to prevent potential harmful effects from consumption of shellfish exposed to bacterial contamination. This action will assure the continuance of Maryland’s excellent reputation for wholesome shellfish products and maintain compliance with the National Shellfish Sanitation Program.”
A shoreline survey of potential sources of bacteria contamination has been completed in the area adjacent to Lecompte Creek and no direct pollution sources were identified. The area is used primarily as a near-shore aquaculture site. MDE monitors bacteriological water quality and conducts pollution source surveys to determine which areas are safe for the harvesting of shellfish. MDE will continue to investigate potential pollution sources and monitor shellfish water quality in Lecompte Creek.
Shellfish (oysters and clams) are filter feeders. They have the ability to filter the water around them and get food from the myriad of microscopic organisms found in the water column. If the waters are polluted, this filtering process can potentially include viruses or bacteria harmful to humans. Oysters and clams are often eaten raw or partially cooked and must come from waters that are not polluted.
In addition, growing oysters around docks, under bridges, and in other near-shore areas have a higher potential for elevated bacteria levels since these areas are more subject to pollution due to run-off, discharge of boat waste, limited circulation and flushing and other factors which may pose a threat to human health if oysters are harvested from these areas for human consumption. Docks and oyster floats can also be attractive roosting areas for waterfowl. All of these factors have the potential to negatively affect water quality and the harvested shellfish.
A map of the area affected by the closure is available below.