BALTIMORE (Jan. 2, 2021) – The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has issued an emergency order closing a waterway in St. Mary’s County to shellfish harvesting following a report of a sewage overflow.
The order, issued today, applies to a portion of the St. George Creek area of the St. Mary’s River. It became effective immediately to prevent the harvesting of oysters and other shellfish in the immediate future.
MDE is coordinating with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Maryland Department of Health to determine whether oysters were harvested from the area in recent days. An aquaculture operation reported that it was working to track down for recall 600 oysters sold in recent days. It was unknown whether any commercial harvesting occurred in the area in recent days, but regulations prohibit commercial harvesting on Wednesdays and on weekends.
The St. Mary’s County Metropolitan Commission reported the sewage overflow to MDE about 7 p.m. yesterday. The initial report stated that the overflow, which occurred on St. George Island near the Route 249 bridge after a sewer main ruptured, was stopped at 6 p.m. Dec. 31. It is not known when the overflow began, but the commission told MDE it believes, based on site conditions, that the overflow likely occurred for no more than three days. MDE’s preliminary investigation shows an overflow of three days would likely result in a discharge of between 4,000 and 6,750 gallons.
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. Information on shellfish harvesting areas is available on MDE’s website.
Today’s emergency order will remain in effect until Jan. 21. The emergency order does not apply to fishing and crabbing.