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New Rules Regarding Oyster Harvesting

US - No sooner have federal regulators backed off a plan to ban raw oyster sales during summer months that Gulf of Mexico oyster harvesters and processors now face a series of new rules that will impact their livelihoods during those same summer months.

Speaking before an unhappy, but polite, oyster industry audience earlier in the month,  David Heil, the state’s chief aquaculture regulator of the oyster industry, outlined a series of rule changes now on the table, reports The Apalach Times.

If enacted into law next year prior to the summer season, the new rules will mean harvesters who do not have on-board cooling systems can work on the bay only between sunrise and 10:45 a.m. between May and October.

In addition, processors will be required to drive down the internal temperature of shellstock oyster to 55 degrees Fahrenheit within eight hours of the moment the harvester removes his first oyster from the water and starts a new bag.

Mr Heil stressed the new rules are a work in progress, still subject to final approval by state officials, and have nothing to do with the recent Food and Drug Administration actions to mandate, and then postpone, post-harvest processing of raw half-shell oysters from May to October.

Instead, the rules are prompted by conditions of the National Shellfish Sanitation Programme, which had mandated five goals to be met by this year. One of the goals, that the rate of Vibrio vulnificus illnesses be reduced by 60 per cent, was not met, with the four reporting states, Florida, Texas, Louisiana and Alabama, instead achieving a 35.2 per cent illness reduction rate.

As a result, said Mr Heil, Gulf states have agreed to put into place additional regulatory controls by May 2010, based on a time temperature modeling tool developed by the Food and Drug Administration. The modeling tool gives states leeway in devising plans, which may include anything from shutting down the entire bay for several weeks, to cutting back hours, to mandating on-board cooling systems.

Mr Heil, assistant director of aquaculture for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said his office welcomes written input on the proposed rule changes. The office is located at 1203 Governors Square Boulevard, Fifth Floor, Tallahassee, FL 32301, and can be reached by calling (850) 488-5471 or by fax at (850) 410-0893.

the Fish Site Editor

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