The state is closing all oyster harvesting beginning Friday.
According to a press release, Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Commissioner Noel Holcomb has announced that Georgia's territorial waters will be closed to commercial and recreational oyster harvest effective 6 a.m., Friday, June 20, until midnight on September 30. According to Dominic Guadagnoli, State Shellfish Program Manager for the DNR, “This closure ensures that Georgia meets new requirements of the National Shellfish Sanitation Program to protect public health by implementing a Vibrio parahaemolyticus (Vp) control plan.” Vp is a naturally occurring bacteria found in filter-feeding shellfish. It occurs at higher concentrations during the months of the year when water temperatures are warm. “During the months of June through September, estuarine water temperatures usually exceed 81 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a threshold temperature established by the National Shellfish Sanitation Program for determining risk associated with Vp. Since coastal Georgia water temperatures meet or exceed this threshold, DNR is implementing a Vp Management Control Plan,” Guadagnoli explained. Other South Atlantic states will also be implementing similar controls to address their specific Vp management issues. Summer is spawning season for oysters. This combination of reproductive activity and warm water affects the quality of oyster flesh making them less desirable as seafood during this time of year. The period of May through September accounts for less than two percent of Georgia’s annual reported oyster harvest. Most recreational harvesters likewise refrain from harvesting oysters during the summer. Thus, it is expected that the planned closure will have little adverse impact on traditional oyster harvesting in coastal Georgia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration most Vp illness cases due to raw consumption of oysters are under reported. The onset of Vp illness generally occurs within three days and common symptoms include vomiting, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, fever and chills. Thorough cooking of oysters and other shellfish will generally destroy all bacteria including Vp. Commercial oyster harvesters have long been aware of the potential for Vp problems associated with oyster harvest and consumption during the warmer months. They fully support the planned closure according to Guadagnoli, who met with all commercial shellfish lease holders in March to discuss this issue.