Date: March 27, 2014
Contact: Patricia Smith
New Shellfish Harvester, Dealer Requirements to go Into Effect April 1
MOREHEAD CITY — New regulations will go into effect April 1 that stipulate how quickly shellfish must go from harvest to refrigeration.
The regulations are meant to prevent post-harvest growth of naturally-occurring Vibrio bacteria that can cause serious illness in humans. These bacteria can multiply rapidly when the shellfish is exposed to air temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
During open harvest season, the new regulations require fishermen 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. In April and May, the oysters must be delivered to the dealer within 12 hours of the start of harvest, and the dealer must refrigerate the oysters within two hours of receipt. June through September, the oysters must be delivered to a licensed shellfish dealer within five hours of the start of harvest. The dealer must place the product under mechanical refrigeration within five hours of the start of harvest.
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 aggressively 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. 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 in the general population.
People with compromised immune systems are more susceptible to Vibrio bacteria illness and should always thoroughly cook all shellfish before eating it.
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.
For more specifics on the regulations see Proclamations SS-1-2014 and SS-2-2014 at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/proclamations.
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.