St. Mary’s County waterway reclassified for shellfish harvesting

St. Patrick Creek reclassified as “conditionally approved”

BALTIMORE, MD (October 15, 2018) – The Maryland Department of the Environment has reclassified a tributary to St. Clements Bay in St. Mary’s County for shellfish harvesting.

St. Patrick Creek has been reclassified as “conditionally approved” for shellfish harvesting. In areas that are conditionally approved, oysters and clams can be harvested at any time with the exception of any rain event of one inch or more, which requires that an affected area be closed for three days and then re-opened unless another rain event occurred during that time.

A portion of the creek that has been reclassified had previously been classified as approved for shellfish harvesting. Another portion had been classified as “restricted,” meaning the area had been closed to shellfish harvesting. The changes – which are effective today, Oct. 15 – affect a total of about 242 acres of waterway.

Three oyster leases, all held by the same lease holder, are affected by the changes. Two of the leases are in the area that had been previously approved, and one is in the area that had been previously restricted.

The changes are due to recent evaluations showing unacceptable bacteria levels in portions of the waterways. The Department of the Environment conducts regular surveys to identify potential pollution sources near shellfish harvesting waters, but the cause of an increase in bacteria levels is not always known, and no specific cause has been identified for the increased levels in these areas.

The Department of the Environment 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 have elevated bacteria levels, the risk is greater that pathogens may be present, and this filtering process can then concentrate any disease-causing organisms. Oysters and clams are often eaten raw or partially cooked and must come from waters that are within acceptable bacteria levels.

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

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

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