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September 4, 2009

Shellfish season set to open Oct. 1

The 2009-2010 season for harvesting oysters and clams will open two weeks later than usual on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2009.
           
The delayed opening is based on public health recommendations from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). In the spring of 2009, DHEC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) confirmed two cases of Vibrio parahaemoliticus illness in South Carolina resulting from oyster consumption. Vibrio parahaemoliticus is a bacterium that may cause gastrointestinal illness; however it is usually not life threatening. Warm coastal waters (greater than 81 degrees Fahrenheit) create higher concentrations of the bacterium and September is one of South Carolina’s warm water months as is June, July and August.
           
Delaying the opening to Oct. 1st and cooler water temperatures complies with national guidelines initiated by FDA to reduce Vibrio parahaemoliticus illnesses in persons consuming raw oysters. Licensed commercial shellfishermen, however, may apply to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and DHEC for permits to gather oysters during this short period, subject to strict harvesting, handling and refrigeration guidelines. Commercially harvested clams are not subject to these stricter handling requirements during the warm water months.
           
Oyster and clam seasons will remain open through May 15, 2010 unless conditions warrant extending or shortening the seasons. Season dates apply to both recreational and commercial shellfish harvesting. Shellfish harvesters may begin gathering oysters and clams in designated areas one-half hour before official sunrise until one-half hour after official sundown. Harvesters should be aware that DHEC will close shellfish beds by specific coastal county if the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) places the area under a hurricane warning.
           
According to DNR, commercial landings last year were 95,100 U.S. bushels, the highest harvest total in 14 years. Based on survey data, recreational harvests were estimated at approximately 20,000 U.S. bushels. Commercial culture permit harvests were 68,527 bushels, approximately 8% greater than last year and the highest since the 2003-04 season.
           
DNR maintains 59 State Shellfish Grounds for commercial and recreational harvesting of clams and oysters. Twenty Public Shellfish Grounds are managed exclusively for recreational gathering and are posted with boundary signs. The recreational limit is two U.S. bushels of oysters and one-half bushel of clams in any one day. No person may gather more than one personal limit of shellfish on more than two calendar days per any seven-day period. There is a maximum possession limit of three personal limits per boat or vehicle or boat and vehicle combination. Clams must be at least one inch in thickness.

Recreational harvesters should obtain updated Public Shellfish Ground maps at the beginning of each season as boundaries may be modified from time to time or areas previously open to harvest may have been closed by pollution by DHEC. Maps for these areas may be obtained by writing Marine Resources Division, P.O. Box 12559, Charleston, SC 29422.  Maps of State Shellfish Grounds, open to both commercial and recreational harvesting, may be found on the web. All maps are listed by county. For additional information, or shellfish map requests, call (843) 953-9300. 
           
South Carolina residents commercially harvesting on State Shellfish Grounds are required to purchase a Saltwater Commercial License, a State Shellfish Ground License and acquire permits from DNR. Increased license fees are required for non-resident harvesters. A Saltwater Recreational Fishing License is required for residents and non-residents for all recreational shellfish harvesting. Areas designated as shellfish culture permits cannot be recreationally harvested unless the harvester has written permission or a harvest card from the permit holder in their possession.
           
The public is reminded that 22 oyster shell recycling drop-off locations are located in coastal counties, and collection sites can be found online, or by calling (843) 953-9300 to find the nearest location. Every shell that is recycled locally is cycled back into the estuarine environment and helps to restore shellfish grounds in the coastal counties. Last year 16,161 bushels were recycled by the public at DNR collection sites. The program has seen a steady increase in public participation since the inception of shell recycling in 2000. Shells not obtained locally are purchased from out of state vendors to ensure that adequate amounts are collected for restoring and refurbishing public reef sites prior to shellfish harvesting season.

DNR uses Saltwater Fishing Stamp funds to construct and enhance renewable oyster resources that provide ecosystem services as well as finfish habitat in the coastal counties. Since the program’s genesis in 2000--84,744 bushels of oyster shells have been recycled and 275,511 bushels have been returned by DNR to create more habitats in coastal estuaries.

South Carolina's natural resources are essential for economic development and contribute nearly $30 billion and 230,000 jobs to the state's economy. Find out why Life's Better Outdoors.


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