Freshly dredged oysters, summer 2011

Freshly dredged oysters, summer 2011 (Jed Kirschbaum/Baltimore Sun 2011)

Parts of three waterways have been opened to shellfish harvesting after tests showed declines in bacteria there, the Maryland Department of the Environment announced Monday.

An area of the Wicomico River on the Eastern Shore, at the border between Wicomico and Somerset counties, is now approved for commercial harvests. Waters below Bay Point had been closed because of high bacteria levels in the water.

The headwaters of Broad Creek in Talbot County have been conditionally approved, meaning that oysters and clams can be harvested there except after a heavy rainfall. The area will be closed for three days whenever an inch of rain falls in a 24-hour period.

The headwaters of a Potomac River tributary, also named the Wicomico River, which flows between Charles and St. Mary's counties, have been conditionally approved for shellfish harvesting as well, except after heavy rains. Harvest restrictions have been lifted without condition for a section of St. Catherine Sound inSt. Mary's Countynear the mouth of the Potomac.

The state monitors bacteria levels and scouts for nearby pollution sources to determine which waters in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries are safe for shellfish harvesting. The department is required to close areas that do not meet water quality standards, and it reopens those areas where water quality improves. The closures are conducted to maintain seafood safety and to remain in compliance with the National Shellfish Sanitation Program. 

Oysters and clams are filter feeders that get their food from microscopic organisms in the water. In polluted waters, feeding shellfish can accumulate bacteria or viruses that are potentially harmful to people.

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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