The state’s largest seed-oyster bed has been shut down because of contamination concerns tied to illegal harvesting.
The Department of Agriculture says the Housatonic River Natural Oyster Seed Bed was shut down after several incidents involving commercial fisherman breaking harvesting regulations related to contaminated oysters.
Commercial fishing firms are supposed to transfer oysters from the river, which contains pollutants from nearby sewage treatment plants, to “relay” beds in the Long Island Sound for six months so they can be naturally cleansed. Oysters that do not go through this process could contain bacteria and viruses that would make people sick if eaten.
An oyster boat captain was arrested on June 7 on accusations of illegally transplanting contaminated oysters from the bed onto oysters in the Sound. Since then the state has increased patrols in the area and the Dept. of Agriculture says they have spotted other suspicious activities around the bed.
On Friday, patrols reported that two vessels “sped away from a Dept. of Agriculture boat attempting to monitor their harvesting activities and made other evasive maneuvers on the water to conceal the dumping of oversized oysters,” according to Dept. of Agriculture officials.
Officials say about a dozen firms harvest from the bed, which is approximately 1250 acres, and only one harvester has consistently complied with harvesting regulations.
The bed is normally closed from July 20 through October 20 for oyster spawning season. The earlier closure will prevent contaminated oysters from reaching the public and give the state time to determine new regulations to combat the harvesting issues.