The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management announced Thursday that with its latest water quality tests earlier this month confirming a year-over-year trend of improvement, it is opening a 515-acre area off the coast of Warren in the Mount Hope Bay to shellfishing. In upgrading it from prohibited to conditionally approved, DEM said the area — located in the bay’s northwest corner and stretching from the mouth of the Kickemuit River in the Touisset Point section of Warren east to the Rhode Island-Massachusetts state line — meets federal safety standards set by the US Food and Drug Administration’s National Shellfish Sanitation Program.
The area off Touisset Point had been closed to shellfishing for decades because of poor water quality. Recent improvements in wastewater treatment and combined sewer overflow (CSO) capture in Fall River, MA, however, have resulted in improved water quality throughout Mount Hope Bay. DEM’s tests showed that these improvements have allowed water quality in the bay — an estuary that’s powered by tide, current, and winds — off Touisset Point to meet national standards for safe shellfish harvest during dry weather for the past several years. Also, tissue analyses for bacteria and heavy metals conducted by the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) have shown that shellfish in these waters meet national standards. This area is now part of the Mount Hope Bay shellfish conditional area. As such, it will be open for shellfish harvest during dry weather but will close for seven days if more than a half-inch of rain falls over a 24-hour period.
Unlike the closures and additional opening (in Tiverton) mentioned below that take effect at sunrise on Saturday, May 27, the Mount Hope Bay opening takes effect at sunrise on Sunday, May 28, because more than a half-inch of rain fell on May 20. All openings and closings will remain in place until Oct. 10.
“From the opening of the Providence River to quahogging for the first time in 75 years in 2021, to the opening of new shellfishing grounds in Greenwich Bay in 2022, to the Mount Hope Bay reopening in 2023, the trend toward better water quality in Narragansett Bay is clear,” said DEM Director Terry Gray. “The improvements propelling this progress — replacing and phasing out outmoded cesspools that pollute groundwater, upgrading wastewater treatment facilities, and improving collection and treatment of stormwater — have not come cheaply, but they’ve been worth every penny because the bay is cleaner and healthier than it’s been in generations.”
Consistent with federal requirements, DEM also is announcing shellfish harvest area closures in local waters because of potential water quality impacts associated with marinas and mooring fields. The seasonal closure areas are within:
o Bristol Harbor
o Dutch Harbor Area, Jamestown
o Fishing Cove, Wickford Harbor
o Great Salt Pond and Trims Pond, Block Island
o Potter Cove, Prudence Island
o Sakonnet Harbor, Little Compton
In addition, small seasonal marina closures in the southern coastal ponds, Fort Wetherill, and the Kickemuit River in Warren will also go into effect on May 27.
Along with the shellfishing acres being opened in Mount Hope Bay, DEM is reclassifying a five-acre parcel near the entrance to Nanaquaket Pond in Tiverton from prohibited to approved for shellfish harvest. This area had a precautionary shellfish closure because of the historic presence of a seafood processing facility near these waters. The facility, however, is no longer in operation, so the potential for accidental bacterial contamination of shellfish waters has been removed and the historic precautionary closure of this area may now be safely lifted. DEM water quality testing also supports this reclassification. This opening takes effect at sunrise on May 27.
Rhode Island shellfish are much sought-after seafood because of a long history of delivering a high-quality product. This is achieved by diligent monitoring of shellfish harvesting waters, protecting public health with a high level of oversight when conditions indicate a change in water quality either from natural sources such as algae blooms or by the quick response to emergency conditions. DEM, RIDOH, and the RI Coastal Resources Management Council, along with diggers, seafood dealers, and other industry partners, collaborate to ensure that shellfish grown and harvested from RI waters continues to be a safe seafood product to be enjoyed by all consumers.
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