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Sewage overflow prompts temporary closure to shellfish harvesting of portion of Chesapeake Bay

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BALTIMORE, MD—As a precaution due to a sewage overflow, the Maryland Department of the Environment on Thursday issued an order temporarily closing a small portion of the Chesapeake Bay to shellfish harvesting.

About 10,400 acres of the bay directly off of Baltimore City and Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties is being temporarily reclassified to restrict shellfish harvesting in the area. The Department of Natural Resources has reported to MDE that there is no shellfish harvesting activity currently in this area and there are no aquaculture leases.

The order, which expands an area already closed to shellfish harvesting east and south of Hart-Miller Island, was issued as a precaution after an estimated volume of the sewage overflow in Baltimore County provided to MDE on Wednesday showed a potential impact to shellfish waters downstream in the bay.

MDE was initially notified by Baltimore County on December 12 of an overflow to Muddy Gut, a small tributary to Back River. That location is not considered shellfish waters. Due to the location of the spill, officials say it was difficult to assess and estimate the volume of the discharge. As of yesterday, a conservative estimate was provided by Baltimore County showing potentially more than two million gallons were lost to surface waters in Muddy Gut.

The overflow had been stopped as of yesterday. The area will be reopened to shellfish harvesting January 11th.

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. MDE monitors bacteriological water quality and conducts pollution source surveys to determine which areas are safe for the harvesting of shellfish.

This order does not impact harvest in other areas that are approved or conditionally approved for shellfish harvest. As a protection to consumers, all shellfish are to be tagged by harvesters and dealers as required under the National Shellfish Sanitation Program. Tags include the date and location of harvest and, in Maryland, can only come from approved or conditionally approved waters.

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