Maryland shuts down shellfish harvesting after sewage overflow that was linked to illnesses

The Maryland Department of the Environment on Monday announced that it will shut down shellfish harvesting in a portion of the Potomac River off of St. Mary’s County because of a sewage overflow.

READ MORE: More than 2 dozen in Northern Virginia sickened by oysters after sewage spill

Last week, FOX 5’s Tisha Lewis reported that more than two dozen illnesses in Northern Virginia had been linked to oysters potentially contaminated by the overflow.

The order closes 180 acres of the river from the St. George Island area.

According to St. Mary’s County officials, the overflow began on Nov. 24 and didn’t end until Sunday morning.

The state believes 2,500 gallons of sewage entered the river over the weekend, and estimated 11,000 gallons were vacuumed from ditches.

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They say shellfish harvesting could resume as soon as Monday, Dec. 20.

Frustrations are still raw from the previous sewage spill reported on the Potomac. FOX 5 spoke with Potomac Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks, who claims there have been around a dozen or more sewage spills over the past few years. He believes there is more to the story.

"I think what’s important for the public to understand is just issuing a shellfish closure is not fixing the problem. MDE did some minor settlement action all the way back to August 2016 and yet there’s been ongoing sewage discharges that have continued so clearly their actions have done nothing to address or fix this problem," said Naujoks.

A Spokesperson with the St. Mary’s County Metropolitan Commission (METCOM) told FOX 5 in part of a statement, the waste management company was not made aware of the recent spill until area resident reported it on Sunday.

The Maryland Environment Spokesperson said they are now planning to request a meeting with the METCOM on the repeated system failures.

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In a press release a state spokesperson also noted there are no aquaculture leases in the emergency closure area and commercial harvesting is not allowed on weekends.

FOX 5 also reached out to the company involved in the Virginia incident and was told the impacted area is on the other side of the island, affecting more of the wild shellfish fisherman than the farmers. The company’s managers are still concerned telling FOX 5 they’re also trying to get more answers on whether there is a greater issue there.