DOAG: Bureau of Aquaculture & Laboratory Services

Bureau of Aquaculture & Laboratory Services

 

Recreational Shellfishing

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THE CONNECTICUT SHELLFISH PROGRAM

The Connecticut Department of Agriculture is the lead State agency responsible for shellfish and aquaculture. The Bureau of Aquaculture and Laboratory administers the following programs:

Shellfish Sanitation: This program is required to assure safe shellfishing areas for commercial and recreational harvesting, protection of public health and to maintain compliance with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's National Shellfish Sanitation Program.

The Bureau performs coastal sanitary surveys along Connecticut's 250-mile shoreline and monitors shellfish growing areas in Long Island Sound for the protection of public health. Seawater samples are collected at numerous routine monitoring locations along the coastline and tested for fecal coliform bacteria. Fecal coliforms are an indicator group of bacteria, that when found at certain levels, suggest bacterial or viral contamination of the waters. Shoreline surveys are conducted to assess and correct sources of pollution. The DA/BA examines plankton tows and shellfish meats as necessary to evaluate the potential for marine biotoxins that can be formed by certain types of phytoplankton. The Bureau also posts signs in areas closed to shellfishing, performs hydrographic dye dilution studies, performs environmental investigations, prepares memorandums of understanding for conditional shellfishing areas, reviews applications for shellfish harvest operations and initiates emergency closures of shellfishing areas.

As part of this program, the Bureau is responsible for the sanitary inspection and licensing of shellfish dealers involved in harvesting, shucking, depuration, repacking and reshipping of fresh and frozen oysters, clams, mussels and scallops, if whole or roe-on. All shellfish dealers, including commercial harvesters, must take Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) training and develop a HACCP plan conforming to the FDAs Seafood Regulations. All shellfish processing and handling operations are inspected at least twice per year as required by FDA. Harvesting boats, vehicles, facilities, equipment, product handling procedures and record keeping are checked for compliance. Operational licenses are reviewed and appropriate corrective actions are taken. The Bureau assists other state, municipal and federal health officials in investigating food borne illnesses, product recall and embargo.

DA/BA must conform to the US Food and Drug Administration/Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (FDA/ISSC) mandates of the National Shellfish Sanitation Program Model Ordinance (NSSP-MO) in order to maintain its interstate standing and comply with Connecticut General Statutes Section 26-192. The NSSP-MO describes the minimum requirements for classification of shellfishing areas, proper harvesting, handling, labeling, storing, transporting of shellfish, and associated record keeping. Historically, the NSSP was developed cooperatively in 1925 by the states, the US Public Health Services (now the FDA) and the shellfish industry in response to major shellfish related food-borne outbreaks. In 1983, the ISSC was formed to update the NSSP and address shellfish issues. The ISSC is composed of coastal and inland state regulators, with representation by FDA and the shellfish industry. The ISSC developed the current NSSP Model Ordinance. The FDA, through a Memorandum of Understanding with the ISSC, must evaluate each state's shellfish program for compliance with the NSSP-MO. The FDA also standardizes state investigators to examine the sanitary handling, shipping and record keeping of commercial market shellfish operations. Those operations found to be in conformance with the NSSP-MO are licensed by DA/BA and a listing of those operations are forwarded to the FDA for inclusion in the Interstate Certified Shellfish Shippers List (usually referred to as the "List") which is published monthly by the FDA. Those states not in compliance are subject to having their commercial shellfish dealers removed from the FDA "List." Removal from the "List" results in stopping sales and shipment of shellfish from those licensed companies. Such action could be economically devastating to a state's shellfish industry.

Laboratory: Services provided by the laboratory support the needs of the Shellfish Sanitation Program which maintains compliance with the US Food and Drug Administration's National Shellfish Sanitation Program Model Ordinance (NSSP-MO). The laboratory provides analyses for environmental quality and aquatic animal health. Tests and analyses performed by the laboratory include bacterial levels in seawater and shellfish, various contaminants, marine biotoxin analysis and shellfish and fish pathology. The laboratory also functions as a research facility for other institutions on a collaborative basis.


Shellfish Habitat Management and Restoration: This program serves two functions:

(1) It provides a mechanism for shellfish aquaculturists to obtain underwater lands in Long Island Sound for the purpose of planting, cultivating and harvesting shellfish and serves as the foundation for the State's multimillion dollar shellfish industry. The Bureau leases shellfish grounds, administers Perpetual Franchise grounds, provides survey and engineering services, maintains maps and records, collects fees and taxes, sets corner marker buoys, constructs and maintains signals and mediates boundary and ownership disputes.

(2) The Bureau provides for the cultivation and propagation of shellfish through the management and restoration of state-owned natural clam and oyster beds. The continued availability of shellfish is critical to the stability and growth of commercial and recreational shellfishing. The Bureau issues Natural Bed and Conch Harvest licenses, sets corner markers, plants cultch, maintains spawn stock, monitors predators and diseases and makes assessments of natural disaster impacts.

Aquaculture Development and Coordination: This program is responsible for planning and coordinating aquaculture development including: development and oversight of legislation and regulations, review of NPDES and Coastal Zone applications, liaison between industry and the regulatory community, promotion, marketing, technology transfer and assistance, communications and addresses issues of regional and national concern.

In Connecticut, shellfish are defined as oysters, clams, mussels and scallops; either shucked or in the shell, fresh or frozen, whole or in part. Scallops are excluded from this definition when the final product is the shucked adductor muscle only. Lobsters, crabs, snails and finfish are not included in this definition.

The Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Aquaculture (DA/BA) responsibilities include leasing submerged State lands for shellfish operations including aquaculture, classifying shellfishing waters, monitoring water quality, identifying sources of pollution, seeking corrective actions, and licensing of all commercial shellfish operations. These operations also include municipal recreational relays and scientific studies, as well as commercial seed oyster harvesting, relaying/transplanting operations, shellstock shipping which may include market harvesting, reshipping, shucking and repacking of shucked shellfish. DA/BA is also involved in seed oyster enhancement activities through its cultch program and licenses conch (whelk) fishing. DA/BA works closely with and depends upon the cooperation and assistance of each town where market harvesting, recreational shellfishing and relay activities are allowed in order to correctly classify shellfishing waters within each municipality. The enforcement of laws relating to illegal harvesting is handled by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Law Enforcement Division working cooperatively with municipal enforcement officials.

DA/BA must conform to the US Food and Drug Administration/Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (FDA/ISSC) mandates of the National Shellfish Sanitation Program Model Ordinance (NSSP-MO) in order to maintain its interstate standing and comply with Connecticut General Statutes Section 26-192. The NSSP-MO describes the minimum requirements for classification of shellfishing areas, proper harvesting, handling, labeling, storing, transporting of shellfish, and associated record keeping. Historically, the NSSP was developed cooperatively in 1925 by the states, the US Public Health Services (now the FDA) and the shellfish industry in response to major shellfish related food-borne outbreaks. In 1983, the ISSC was formed to update the NSSP and address shellfish issues. The ISSC is composed of coastal and inland state regulators, with representation by FDA and the shellfish industry. The ISSC developed the current NSSP Model Ordinance. The FDA, through a Memorandum of Understanding with the ISSC, must evaluate each state's shellfish program for compliance with the NSSP-MO. The FDA also standardizes state investigators to examine the sanitary handling, shipping and record keeping of commercial market shellfish operations. Those operations found to be in conformance with the NSSP-MO are licensed by DA/BA and a listing of those operations are forwarded to the FDA for inclusion in the Interstate Certified Shellfish Shippers List (usually referred to as the "List") which is published monthly by the FDA. Those states not in compliance are subject to having their commercial shellfish dealers removed from the FDA "List." Removal from the "List" results in stopping sales and shipment of shellfish from those licensees. Such action could be economically devastating to a state's shellfish industry.