Bacteria levels decrease; portion of Big Annemessex River now open to harvesting at any time

The Maryland Department of the Environment has reclassified a portion of the Big Annemessex River in Somerset County to allow oysters and clams to be harvested at any time.

The change is based on a recent evaluation that showed decreased levels of bacteria in the waterway. Prior to this reclassification the area had beenconditionally approvedfor 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.

The area affected – the Big Annemessex River downstream of Persimmon Point – was opened to harvesting effective December 31, 2012, through notice to regulating authorities and stakeholders. The change opens about 943 acres of shellfish harvesting waters, including about 53 acres of oyster leases.

The headwaters of the Big Annemessex River remain conditionally approved for shellfish harvesting and Hall Creek remains closed to shellfish harvesting.

Information on shellfish harvesting areas is available on MDE’s website. These designations apply only to the harvesting of shellfish (oysters and clams); they do not apply to fishing or crabbing. Consumption advisories for recreationally caught fish and crabs can also be found on MDE’s website.

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.

Shellfish 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 disease-causing organisms associated with raw sewage and other sources, such as animal waste. Oysters and clams are often eaten raw or partially cooked and must come from waters that are not polluted.

These actions are necessary to protect public health by preventing harvest from the areas impacted and ensure Maryland remains in compliance with the National Shellfish Sanitation Program.

Logo courtesy Maryland Department of Natural Resources

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