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THE QUEBEC REGION BULLETIN
JUNE - JULY 2010/VOLUME 13/NUMBER 3
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SHELLFISH AND CLAMS FOR SUPPER?
EAT SAFELY!
Water analysis in an Environment Canada laboratory Water analysis in an Environment Canada laboratory

Environment Canada  
Y. Lamontagne

Every year, thousands of harvesters who eat or sell shellfish visit some 300 shellfish beds along Quebec’s shores. Unfortunately, not everyone takes the trouble to check whether the shellfish are safe to eat. Yet the risks are very real…

Shellfish feed on plankton by filtering water. If the water in their habitat is contaminated by bacteria, toxic algae or chemical pollutants, shellfish will accumulate them in their flesh, thus making its consumption hazardous to human health. 

To reduce the risk of human intoxication, three federal agencies—Environment Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Fisheries and Oceans Canada—have pooled their efforts via the Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program.

Water quality

Shellfish must be harvested from beds where water quality meets very stringent standards. The marine environment, however, is occasionally polluted by municipal wastewater, wastewater from poorly maintained septic tanks and weeping beds, untreated industrial waste, run-off from farmland, chemical contamination, etc.

Environment Canada studies the bacteriological quality of the water at shellfish beds and recommends closing beds where the water is found to be polluted. The Department also works with various other government agencies and local communities to reopen closed beds.  

Shellfish quality

Shellfish harvested for analysis by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency
Shellfish harvested for
analysis by the Canadian
Food Inspection Agency

CFIA

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency monitors the quality of shellfish in beds by applying the marine biotoxin monitoring program. The Agency recommends that beds be opened or closed depending on the levels observed.  

Two toxins are particularly dangerous: paralysing shellfish poison and domoic acid. Both are produced naturally by microscopic algae living in plankton. Eating shellfish containing these toxins can cause disorders of the human nervous system that can be fatal. Other biotoxins produced by algae can cause serious digestive and intestinal problems.

Opening and closing of shellfish beds

Fisheries and Oceans Canada opens and closes shellfish beds at the request of either Environment Canada or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and notifies all concerned parties. Fisheries officers post bans and patrol closed beds to ensure that no unsafe shellfish are harvested. If necessary, violators are ticketed.

It is the responsibility of people harvesting shellfish to obtain information about the conditions prevailing in the areas where they are gathering and to abide by the harvesting bans clearly indicated on panels posted near the closed beds.

To find out which shellfish gathering areas are safe, call one of the following numbers:

from Île aux Coudres to Baie-Trinité 1-800-463-8558
from Baie-Trinité to Blanc-Sablon 1-800-463-1736
from Saint-Roch-des-Aulnaies to Cap-Gaspé  1-800-463-0607
from Cap-Gaspé to Matapédia River   1-800-463-4204
Magdalen Islands    418-986-3882

Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program
Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Marine Water Quality Monitoring
Environnement Canada

Harvesting Shellfish in Quebec
Government of Canada – mollusca.gc.ca


Canadian Food Inspection Agency
Environment Canada
Fisheries and Oceans Canada