New regulations took effect April 1 for the shellfish industry.
The regulations stipulate how quickly shellfish must go from harvest to refrigeration and are meant to prevent the post-harvest growth of naturally-occurring vibrio bacteria, which can cause serious illness in humans, according to a notice from the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries.
These bacteria can multiply rapidly when the shellfish is exposed to air temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
During open harvest season, fishermen are required to record the time of start of harvest on a tag affixed to the shellfish container and deliver the product to a licensed shellfish dealer within 12 hours of the time on the tag. The dealer is required to record the time he receives the shellfish and place the product under mechanical refrigeration within two hours of receipt.
Regulations for oysters harvested from leases during closed season will remain largely the same as last year, except leaseholders will no longer need a separate permit to harvest with a closed season certification.
The new regulations are required by the National Shellfish Sanitation Program, which is a program through which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration works with states to assure the safety of molluscan shellfish, such as oysters and clams.
The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries monitors and enforces shellfish harvest areas to ensure consumers are provided with a safe and quality product. However, naturally occurring bacteria, such as vibrio parahaemolyticus, can be found in oysters and clams from approved growing areas, the release said.
When shellfish are exposed to air, they close. Bacteria inside the animal can multiply when the oysters or clams are exposed to warm air temperatures for a long time. If the bacteria multiply to very high levels, they can cause moderate to severe gastrointestinal illness.
While there have been no outbreaks of illness caused by eating North Carolina oysters or clams, several outbreaks caused by these bacteria have occurred along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts during the past year, according to the DMF information.
For more specifics on the regulations see Proclamations SS-1-2014 and SS-2-2014 at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/proclamation.
For more information, contact Steve Murphey with the Division of Marine Fisheries’ Shellfish Sanitation and Recreational Water Quality Section at 252-808-8155 or Steve.Murphey@ncdenr.gov.