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Officials close shellfish harvest areas off LI

State officials said Thursday they would close 52 acres of shellfish harvest areas in Suffolk, citing elevated bacteria levels that can make shellfish unsafe to consume. New seasonal limits were also imposed on 2,155 acres off Hempstead, East Hampton and Southold, where harvesting will only be allowed at certain times.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation said the changes followed tests that showed water there had elevated levels of coliform and fecal bacteria that correspond with an increased risk of illness for people who eat shellfish. The new rules take effect immediately and may be updated as changes in water quality warrant, the agency said.

The biggest affected area is a 2,043-acre band of shellfish beds in the middle of East Bay between the Meadowbrook and Wantagh parkways, which will now be open only seasonally. Just three years ago, the DEC had declared those beds safe for year-round harvesting.

Similar adjustments happen each year as bacteria levels fluctuate, said the DEC's William Hastback.

Pollution culprits include storm-water runoff and waterfowl feces. "These are areas that are marginally meeting water quality criteria - then they don't, and we have to close them," Hastback said.

It's not clear how this year's changes will affect harvesters. New York issued 1,680 shellfish diggers permits as of August, but the state does not know how many permit holders do it full time or use the affected areas, according to a DEC regulatory impact statement.

The state does not have updated information on shellfish abundance in those areas.

Now closed year-round: nine acres in Islip's Nicoll Bay at the mouth of Homan Creek, as well as 39 acres in Three Mile Harbor and 4 acres in Hog Creek, both off East Hampton.

Areas with new or altered seasonal limits (seasons vary by location): 6 acres in Hands Creek and eight in Hog Creek, both off East Hampton, as well as 98 acres in West Creek off Southold and 2,043 acres in Hempstead's East Bay.

For more information, call the DEC at 631-444-0475.

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