By Bill Nachman
Health officials are very concerned about oysters being poached from polluted waters, a federal health official said Saturday.
Speaking during the annual meeting of the Tidewater Oyster Gardeners Association, Robert Connell, regional shellfish specialist for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said that health officials are worried that some shellfish is not being carefully monitored before it reaches market.
Unfortunately, Connell said, some unscrupulous individuals raid the oysters being raised in oyster gardens and sell what they steal. Oyster gardens involve individuals growing the bivalves to help improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay region, he said, and are not commercial oyster-growing operations. Connell is based in Baltimore, with much of his time devoted to oyster gardens and other shellfish matters in Maryland and Virginia.
And if word gets out that there are a lot of tainted oysters being sold, Connell said, than this could seriously hurt the overall purchase of oysters from non-polluted waters.
Shellfish gardens are important, Connell told the approximately 80 people in attendance, because they help restore ecosystem health and restore the strength of an important fishery.
In addition, the oyster gardens and the persons who tend them have a very important educational function in getting average folks interested in environmental issues.