Georgia’s territorial waters have re-opened to commercial and recreational shellfish harvest, effective 6 a.m., Oct. 1, 2020.
The waters were opened by an administrative order signed by Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Commissioner Mark Williams and will likely remain open until June 1, 2021, but could close earlier if water temperatures become higher than 81 degrees Fahrenheit, said Dominic Guadagnoli, the shellfish and water quality unit leader of DNR’s Coastal Resources Division (CRD).
“When water temperatures are above 81 degrees, there is the potential for a bacteria known as Vibrio to contaminate shellfish, particularly oysters,” Guadagnoli said. “We at CRD monitor the public shellfish harvest areas on a routine basis and check for bacteria and water quality and temperature to ensure public safety.”
Consumption of raw oysters contaminated with Vibrio can lead to illness in humans. The bacteria can cause gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea, abdominal cramping, nausea, and may cause fever and chills. Severe illness is rare and typically occurs in people with a weakened immune system.
If an area is found to be unsafe, CRD will close the harvest area and post signs indicating the closure. Guadagnoli also reminded the public that recreational shellfish harvesting is only legal in approved areas, which can be found at www.CoastalGaDNR.org/ApprovedRecHarvestAreas.
To be harvested, oysters must measure no less than three inches from hinge to mouth, unless the oyster cannot be removed from a legal-sized oyster without destroying it. Recreational harvesters may take up to two bushels of oysters per day, with a maximum of six bushels of oysters per boat, per day. Shellfish may be harvested from half an hour before official sunrise and half an hour after official sunset. Shellfish may only be taken with handheld implements. Recreational harvesters must have a valid Georgia fishing license and free Saltwater Information Program permit.