TRENTON – The state Department of Environmental Protection reopened the vast majority of shellfish beds in the state today after tissue samples collected over the weekend met federal health standards. The beds were closed Aug. 27 as Hurricane Irene approached New Jersey.
Commissioner Bob Martin signed an order reopening shellfish beds in the ocean from Sandy Hook to Cape May Point and reopening estuarine shellfish beds from the Metedeconk River to Cape May Point. The order returns the beds to the harvest classification status that was in effect prior to passage of Hurricane Irene.
“The shellfish industry is very important to New Jersey’s economy,” Martin said. “I want to thank all of the harvesters, distributors, retailers and countless small businesses that made sacrifices to protect public health under difficult circumstances. The DEP is continuing to monitor and test shellfish beds and expects remaining beds to be reopened soon.”
As Irene approached, the DEP issued a statewide ban on the harvest of clams, oysters and mussels due to concerns about degradation of water quality from large volumes of stormwater. Clams, oysters and mussels are filter feeders that can accumulate harmful bacteria carried into waterways by stormwater.
On Sunday, personnel with the DEP’s Bureau of Marine Water Monitoring collected tissue samples. Several clam boat operators helped out by taking DEP staff out to many of the beds, enabling staff to conduct a comprehensive sampling of ocean and estuarine waters. These tissue samples met federal health standards for safe consumption.
The DEP today collected tissue samples from shellfish beds in the northern estuaries including Raritan Bay, Sandy Hook Bay and the Navesink and Shrewsbury rivers. A decision on reopening these northern beds could be made as early as Wednesday, after the tissue results are analyzed.
Weather permitting the DEP will collect tissue samples from Delaware Bay on Wednesday, with a decision on reopening beds to be made after an analysis of the results.
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 Department of Health and Senior Services’ 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.
Harvesters and the public are advised that clams, oysters or mussels are not to be taken from waters in which they were restricted prior to storm.
Crabs, lobsters, scallops and other shellfish were not affected by the shellfish bed closures.
For more information, including a map of re-opened shellfish beds, visit: www.nj.gov/dep/bmw.
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