This page describes in brief the food safety legislation relating to shellfish harvesting.
There are a number of shellfish production areas within Lancaster City Council’s boundaries, which include both cockles (Cerastoderma edule) and mussels (Mytilus spp).
Although the collecting of shellfish for personal consumption is unregulated, the commercial harvesting of shellfish is regulated and Lancaster City Council is responsible for local regulation under Regulation EC 854/2004.
Are there controls on harvesting shellfish?
Yes, commercial gatherers may only harvest live bivalve molluscs from areas with fixed locations and boundaries that the competent authority has classified, the commercial gathering of shellfish for sale is covered by Regulation EC 853/2004.
Lancaster City Council is the enforcement authority for the areas of Morecambe Bay East and the Lune.
Why are there controls over harvesting shellfish?
Because shellfish filter feed, they can concentrate pathogenic bacteria and toxins from the water in their flesh. If eaten untreated this may cause gastrointestinal illness in consumers.
Lancaster City Council is required to undertake sampling of shellfish from designated production areas.
Samples are sent to Preston for microbiological analysis.
Shellfish beds are then given a classification based upon the bacteriological quality of the flesh.
The classification of a shellfish bed determines what level of treatment must be applied to the shellfish before they are safe to eat:
Class A: Molluscs can be harvested for direct human consumption.
Class B: Molluscs can go for human consumption after purification in an approved plant or after relaying in an approved relaying area or after an EC approved heat treatment process.
Class C: Molluscs can go for human consumption only after relaying for at least two months in an approved relaying area, whether or not combined with purification, or after an EC approved heat treatment process.
Prohibited: Molluscs must not go for human consumption.
Removal of shellfish from production areas
All shellfish removed for human consumption must be accompanied by a shellfish registration document.
Closing shellfish beds
Local Authorities are required to close shellfish beds (using Closure Notices) to harvesting when unusually high levels of bacteria are found in samples.
The main aim of such closures is to safeguard public health, as the treatment that shellfish would normally undergo may be insufficient to get rid of all the bacteria.
Removing shellfish from a closed area is a legal offence.
Re-opening shellfish beds
When the beds are closed, the local authority tests the beds on a weekly basis. The closure notices remain in place until 2 consecutive samples show that bacteriological quality has returned to normal levels for the production area.
If you have any questions relating to shellfish classification, production areas, registration documents or closure notices, please contact us using the details below.