TRENTON – The Department of Environmental Protection today reminded commercial and recreational harvesters that all shellfish beds in the state remain closed as a result of the passage of Hurricane Irene.
The Department of Health and Senior Services urges commercial and recreational harvesters, certified shellfish dealers, and the public to observe all harvesting restrictions because ingesting shellfish from closed beds could potentially cause illness.
The commercial harvest ban has been in effect since Aug. 27 due to concerns about degradation of water quality in more than 720,000 acres of shellfish beds in the state’s ocean waters and estuaries. Bivalves such as clams, oysters and mussels are filter feeders that can accumulate harmful bacteria carried into waterways by stormwater.
Testing this week indicated that bacteria levels exceeded the federal criteria set to protect the public in the consumption of shellfish.
The DEP will continue to test waters at shellfish beds across the state. Once the water meets the federal standard, a minimum of seven days must pass before the tissue is tested to ensure no bacteria are present in the shellfish. This process ensures bacteria have had a chance to be flushed from the shellfish.
The DEP works with the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services and U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ensure that shellfish are safely harvested in state waters.
The DEP monitors, classifies and enforces shellfish regulations in 425,830 acres of estuarine beds and 295,857 acres of ocean beds.
The DHSS Food Safety Program regularly inspects shellfish processing plants to ensure they follow regulations that outline health and safety precautions. Shellfish samples are regularly collected from harvest areas, certified shellfish dealers and retailers for bacteriological examination.
The program oversees a certification program which requires all wholesale shellfish dealers to handle, process, and ship shellfish under sanitary conditions and maintain records verifying that the shellfish were obtained from approved areas.
For results of water tests conducted this week by the DEP, visit: www.nj.gov/dep/bmw.