Illegal shellfish harvest a health danger

People who have been seen collecting oysters and digging clams along the shores in the Mill Bay area are risking their health.

Alison Philp of South Cowichan Community Policing issued a warning last week about the practice, saying that old signs indicating the area is closed to such activity may be confusing some of the shellfish harvesters.

“It was one of the people that live along the foreshore here that contacted the Department of Fisheries and found out the real scoop,” said Philp.“Some of the signs are looking so old and worn out that people are thinking ‘oh, it’s probably not effective anymore.’ Well it is, in fact, effective.”

Mill Bay is located within the Sanitary Closure area 19.3, the DFO said, an area that is closed through the entire year due to “sanitary contamination.”

“Bivalve shellfish, including clams and oysters, from this area are not safe for human consumption,” DFO said.

“There are areas that aren’t closed for shellfish harvesting,” said Philp. “But people should still be aware that the signs are up and they’re still up for a reason.”

Further, Elysha Gordon of DFO cautions that there are proper ways to harvest and store shellfish.

“Bivalve shellfish should only be harvested at the water’s edge when the tide is going out, and shellfish should be iced, refrigerated or frozen immediately after harvest or purchase, and during transport, until they’re ready to be eaten,” she said in a press release.

“These animals are highly sensitive to the quality of their marine environments. Because they feed by filtering microscopic organisms from the water, harmful bacteria, viruses and biotoxins from their surroundings can build up in their tissues and may cause illness in people who consume affected shellfish.”

Cooking shellfish does not completely safeguard against getting sick, either.

“Cooking bivalve shellfish does not destroy many of the toxins that may be present when shellfish are harvested from a closed area,” Gordon said.

For that reason, it is actually illegal to harvest shellfish from a closed area like Mill Bay.

Further, a tidal waters sport fishing licence is needed to harvest shellfish recreationally.

Locations of all of the closed areas are available on the DFO website (www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/contamination/sani/area-secteur-19/19.3-eng.html)