Oystermen to consider more safeguards against bacteria

By DANIEL WALSH

Published: Friday, September 05, 2008

 

Source of Article:  http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/182/story/249489.html

  COMMERCIAL TOWNSHIPDelaware Bay oystermen will look at increased safeguards next year to combat vibrio bacteria during summer’s hottest months. The Delaware Bay Shellfish Council is putting together a committee to look at mandating stronger restrictions to fight vibrio parahaemolyticus, a naturally occurring bacteria that thrives in warm waters. Multiple cases of vibrio from Delaware Bay oysters sickened people in Maryland and possibly other locations, according to Maryland and New Jersey officials and local oystermen. That prompted the shutdown of Delaware Bay oyster beds for more than a week in late August. DEP scientist Bob Connell found no signs of active vibrio after DEP biologists conducted water tests, but that was not unexpected. The waters have cooled since the summer’s hottest weeks in June and July, when it’s believed the oysters sickened those who consumed them. “He didn’t find anything there,” said Steve Fleetwood, who heads Bivalve Packing, a local seafood company that ships Delaware Bay shellfish around the country. “That’s kind of what we knew. We just don’t have much of a problem with it. But it is there. It is temperature sensitive.” Fleetwood is heading the committee to look at more safeguards, a group formed Tuesday after a meeting with federal and state health officials. Already, oystermen voluntarily limit their harvests to morning hours during the hottest weeks, and the harvest is suspended for two weeks in June, when waters are typically hottest. Catches must also be refrigerated by 3 p.m. during the summer. Friday marked the last day of those restrictions. “This time of year, the sun’s not as hot,” Fleetwood said. “We can go back to working a little bit later in the day. Things will not be the same as we know it in Delaware Bay because we all know we have to prevent this from happening again.” Topping the agenda could be further restricting the hours of harvest during summer months or requiring oystermen to refrigerate oysters earlier after catches, maybe even immediately on their boats. Vibrio is only a problem in raw oysters. Cooking the oysters kills the vibrio. Chilling them sends it into a dormant state. Consuming raw infected oysters can lead to illness, particularly in people with compromised immune systems, such as the elderly. The bacteria belong to the same family as vibrio vulnificus, but they are two distinctly different species. Vibrio vulnificus is found more often in waters farther south and is often fatal, whereas vibrio parahaemolyticus is not considered nearly as dangerous.

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