New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced the completion of the federal evaluation under the National Shellfish Sanitation Program (NSSP) of the State’s new shellfish microbiology laboratory. The state-of-the-art laboratory is located at DEC’s Division of Marine Resources’ new headquarters located in Kings Park and completed last fall (leaves DEC website). The laboratory features advanced equipment for processing and analyzing thousands of plankton, shellfish, and water samples annually, to ensure that shellfish harvested from certified (approved) areas in New York are safe for consumers in support of the State’s commercially important shellfish industry. DEC operates the only FDA-evaluated and conforming (approved) laboratory in the State for processing water samples to certify shellfish harvest areas under the NSSP.
“New York’s Marine and Coastal District includes more than one million acres of shellfish harvest areas, providing opportunities for millions of New Yorkers access to fresh, local New York seafood.” said Commissioner Seggos. “The rigorous testing completed by this laboratory certifies that shellfish harvested from New York’s marine waters meet strict public health standards for consumers and that New York’s shellfish industry is a respected source for healthy shellfish across the East Coast.”
Michael Lombardi, Director, Shellfish Sanitation Branch II, USFDA, said, “In partnership through the National Shellfish Sanitation Program, the FDA works with states such as New York to determine conformance with the NSSP requirements of the shellfish growing area classification, certified processing and shipping plants, illness control, control of harvest and shellfish laboratories to promote public health for those consuming molluscan shellfish such as clams, oysters and mussels.”
DEC’s Shellfish Microbiology Laboratory analyzes approximately 13,000 water samples year-round to monitor trends in water quality from waterbodies across Long Island. Water samples are used to determine if areas meet strict sanitary standards for consumers under guidance by the U.S. Food and Drug Administrations (FDA) and the NSSP. DEC classifies shellfish harvest areas as open year-round, seasonally open, or closed year-round as a result of continuous testing conducted by the laboratory. For more information on shellfish harvest areas, use DEC’s Public Shellfish Mapper to learn about harvest area boundaries, seasonally open dates, and water quality sampling locations.
In addition to year-round water sampling analysis, the laboratory processes hundreds of blue mussel samples and phytoplankton samples annually. Each spring DEC deploys mussel samples in various waterbodies around Long Island to monitor for the presence of potential marine biotoxins that can accumulate in shellfish and make them dangerous for consumption. Phytoplankton are identified and photographed as an early warning sign for harmful algae blooms (HABs) that may accumulate in shellfish and pose a risk to consumers.
Enhancements provided at the new laboratory support DEC’s continued commitment to expand open shellfish harvests and increase shellfish harvesting opportunities for commercial and recreational shellfish harvesters as water quality conditions warrant. In November 2021, DEC announced regulations to reclassify shellfish harvest areas that opened 6,211 acres of new shellfish harvest areas. DEC will continue to monitor water quality of these reclassified areas and other certified and seasonally certified areas.