Shellfish Sanitation Program
The Connecticut Department of Agriculture/Bureau of Aquaculture (DA/BA) is the lead agency in charge of shellfish sanitation in the state, and operates as part of the National Shellfish Sanitation Program (NSSP). The NSSP is a cooperative program consisting of state, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and industry partners who agree to accept and meet specific responsibilities in order to ensure the safety of molluscan shellfish. Shellfish sanitation guidelines are outlined in the NSSP Guide for the Control of Molluscan Shellfish Model Ordinance (NSSP-MO). Each year the FDA evaluates Connecticut’s shellfish program for compliance with the NSSP-MO.
The NSSP was developed cooperatively in 1925 by the states, U.S. Public Health Services (now the FDA), and shellfish industry members in response to major shellfish related food-borne outbreaks. The Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC) was formed in 1983 as a means to update the NSSP-MO and address emerging issues. The ISSC is composed of state regulators, with representation by the FDA and shellfish industry.
DA/BA responsibilities include:
- Shoreline sanitary surveys. DA/BA performs coastal sanitary surveys along Connecticut's 250-mile shoreline. The sanitary survey identifies all actual and potential pollution sources and their impact upon a growing area; reviews bacteriological quality of waters in the growing area; analyzes meteorological, hydrodynamic, and geographic characteristics of the growing area; evaluates changes in land use and their potential to impact the growing area; evaluates the performance of sewage treatment plants; and looks for any failing septic systems. The NSSP-MO requires sanitary surveys to be reevaluated and updated yearly, reviewed and updated every three years, and repeated every 12 years.
- Classifying shellfish growing waters. Shellfish growing areas are classified based upon the findings of shoreline sanitary surveys. Routine water quality results should support the classifications. DA/BA staff collect, and the onsite DA/BA laboratory processes, water and shellfish samples year-round. DA/BA analyzes water quality data and ensures that all commercial and recreational shellfish growing areas are appropriately classified according to the NSSP-MO requirements. Shellfish growing areas and water quality stations along Connecticut's shoreline can be viewed on the Aquaculture Mapping Atlas.
- Shellfish safety. The DA/BA is responsible for ensuring that all harvested Connecticut shellfish are safe for consumption. The DA/BA laboratory is predominantly a microbiology laboratory that enumerates fecal coliform bacteria, potential indicators of fecal contamination. The laboratory also maintains methods for assessing viral contamination, the bacteria Vibrio parahaemolyticus, and harmful algal bloom organisms. The DA/BA maintains procedures to close shellfish growing areas and recall harvested shellfish in the event of an emerging public health issue, as well as to investigate potential shellfish-borne illnesses.
- Inspecting shellfish dealers. DA/BA is responsible for the sanitary inspection and licensing of shellfish dealers involved in harvesting, shucking, depuration, repacking and reshipping of fresh and frozen oysters, clams, mussels and scallops (whole or roe-on). All shellfish processing and handling operations are inspected at least twice per year, as required by FDA. Harvesting boats, vehicles, facilities, equipment, product handling procedures and record keeping are checked for compliance. All shellfish dealers must take Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) training and develop a HACCP plan conforming to the FDA’s Seafood Regulations. The operations found to be in conformance with the NSSP-MO are licensed by DA/BA and are listed on the Interstate Certified Shellfish Shippers List.
- Licensing shellfish and aquaculture operations. The DA/BA licenses all commercial shellfish operations, including shellstock shippers, which may include market harvesting, reshipping, shucking and repacking of shucked shellfish; relaying/transplanting operations; and commercial seed oyster harvesting. DA/BA also licenses municipal recreational relays and scientific studies.
- Assisting with aquaculture permitting. While DA/BA does not issue aquaculture permits, staff assist with the application process.
The enforcement of laws relating to illegal harvesting is handled by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) Marine Law Enforcement Division.