For Release: Thursday, June 13, 2013
DEC Law Enforcement Prevents Uncertified Clams from Reaching Consumers
Commercial Vessel Found Illegally Shellfishing Near Sewage Treatment Plant Outflow Pipe
Bay Head Inc. of Bellport, owner of a 70-foot long ocean surf clam harvesting boat, agreed to a $100,000 penalty after an investigation by New York State Environmental Conservation Officers (ECOs) prevented 28 cages of potentially tainted shellfish from reaching consumers in February, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced today. The vessel was observed harvesting clams in uncertified waters near the outflow pipe of a sewage treatment plant.
"In addition to protecting natural resources, Environmental Conservation Officers play a valuable role in safeguarding the public's health," DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said. "The harvesting of shellfish from uncertified waters has the potential to have dire human health consequences by transmitting diseases to humans who consume them."
In mid-February an ECO investigating a complaint observed surf clam boats operating in the Atlantic Ocean south of Long Island in an area near the outfall pipe of Suffolk County's Bergen Point Sewage Treatment Plant. This area is closed to shellfish harvesting and holds an uncertified area designation which extends three miles offshore and one-half mile east and west of the actual outfall pipe. The closure has been in effect since the Bergen Point Sewage Treatment Plant opened in the late 1970s. The uncertified area is in place to protect public health from possible contamination that may occur from any accidental untreated sewage discharges and to protect the outfall pipe itself from damage from dredges that are used in the harvesting of surf clams.
Shellfish such as surf clams are especially susceptible to contamination that may exist in their environment. Shellfish pump water around their bodies to obtain oxygen and filter out tiny plants and animals for food. This filtering may also pick up disease-causing micro-organisms (bacteria, viruses and certain dinoflagellates) that can be eaten with the shellfish and has the potential to cause serious human illness or even death.
ECO's effectively monitored the vessel's fishing activities in this area using DEC's recently implemented electronic Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) to track surfclam vessels in the Atlantic Ocean. Working with DEC shellfish staff, ECOs were able to confirm the area in question was indeed closed, uncertified waters. On February 25, ECOs noticed the Amanda Tara, a 70-foot-long ocean surf clam harvesting boat, in this area. With the assistance of the Suffolk County Police Aviation Unit, DEC law enforcement took two over flights of the area and photographed the activity with an exact location of the boat in the closed, uncertified waters while other DEC law enforcement continued observation from the shore. The Amanda Tara was observed still harvesting clams in the closed area after sunset, another violation of Environmental Conservation Law.
State law prohibits harvesting shellfish from sunset to sunrise. This law was made so law enforcement officials could easily observe shellfishing activities to ensure shellfish are harvested from certified areas only.
On February 26, ECOs observed the offloading of clams in Oceanside and conducted an inspection. Fifteen cages were on a tractor-trailer, ready to be transported to Sea Watch surf clam processing facility in Delaware. Eleven cages where found stored on site awaiting a truck to take them to Sea Watch and two cages had already left on a truck to Sea Watch. The 26 cages still at the Oceanside dock were seized in place. All clams were ultimately destroyed.
The two cages of surf clams that were transported to the Sea Watch processing facility, Delaware, were seized and embargoed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC). These surf clams were destroyed by DNREC.
Each cage holds 32 bushels of surf clams. A total of 896 bushels were involved in this enforcement case. The estimated value of the illegal catch of surf clams is about $11,000.
To report any environmental crime, please contact DEC's toll free 24-hour TIPP hotline at: 1-800-TIPP DEC (1-800-847-7332). DEC keeps the identity of all TIPP callers confidential.