DEC: New rules for harvesting, storing shellfish on LI

Students from Connetquot High School separate oysters and Students from Connetquot High School separate oysters and clams from the dirt as they get ready to place them back into the Long Island Sound in Nissequogue for a project to help boost oyster growth. (Oct. 31, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

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State fisheries regulators have issued new rules for harvesting and storing Long Island shellfish, following outbreaks of a harmful bacterium in local waters last year.

The rules, effective this month, seek to keep clams and oysters cool enough to prevent exposure to the bacteria, known as Vibrio parahaemolyticus, which saw outbreaks in Oyster Bay Harbor and Cold Spring Harbor in 2013.

Shellfish digger permits issued on Long Island this year come with a copy of the new rules, which are based on guidelines from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's National Shellfish Sanitation Program.

The rules prohibit clammers from storing clams in containers that are not self-draining, or from allowing clams to "sit in standing or stagnant water." Stored clams also must be labeled with time-of-harvest tags from the point at which diggers begin harvesting.

In addition, if the state Department of Environmental Conservation determines a harvest area has experienced a Vibrio outbreak, shellfish diggers in certain North Shore waters must ice clams and oysters within one hour of harvest time, or refrigerate them within five hours. The shellfish can't be mingled with those from outside sectors east of those affected.

The affected zones stretch from Lloyd Point to Prospect Point on the Long Island Sound. The DEC can declare the zone rule restrictions from May 1 through Sept. 30. The DEC issued the rules and will enforce them.

In a statement, DEC spokeswoman Lisa King said the agency faced the choice of implementing the federal temperature controls or closing an area affected by an outbreak.

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"DEC must implement these control measures that are required by the National Shellfish Sanitation Program's Model Ordinance or close the area to shellfish harvest during the risk period . . ." she said. "DEC chose to implement the time-temperature control measures as the preferred option to maintain compliance rather than close shellfish areas to harvest which would have greater economic impacts on the shellfish industry."

Longtime Northport clammer Tom Kokell said the five-hour window for refrigerating clams "is a little short" for a workday that usually begins at 5 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m., particularly in the high-demand summer. He also was uncertain that his boat could carry enough ice to keep a day's worth of clams cool, particularly in summer.

"If you have 10 bags of neck [clams], you'd have to have 10 coolers on board," he said. "Where are you going to put this? It just sounds like a nightmare."

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