The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is announcing that it is upgrading about 180 acres of shellfishing grounds in the Nausauket area of Greenwich Bay in Warwick from prohibited to conditionally approved harvesting status starting at sunrise on Friday, Sept. 2.

The opening represents a 10 percent increase in the area of the bay that is conditionally approved for shellfishing, according to DEM. State and local actions to strengthen stormwater controls and increase sewering have led to improved water quality in this section of the bay, which has been closed to shellfishing for 20 years.

“This is exciting news for Warwick diggers and residents, the habitat of Greenwich Bay, and Rhode Island’s local food economy,” said Governor Dan McKee in a statement. “This is a water quality success story.”

“The improvements in the cove are the result of a combination of better storm water management, extensive hook-ups to city sewer systems, and elimination of cesspools,” said DEM Director Terry Gray in a statement. “All these actions were driven by state programs and implemented in partnership with the City of Warwick. This opening is an example of vision, long-term infrastructure investments, and state-local-federal cooperation leading to cleaner water.”

“The City of Warwick is committed to both protecting our natural resources and promoting economic growth,” said Warwick Mayor Frank J. Picozzi in a statement. “From improved stormwater controls linked with the Apponaug circulator project to the elimination of cesspools in the Apponaug area due to the 2007 Rhode Island Cesspool Act, our city has been committed to this cause for decades. In the early 1980s, practically no homes in Apponaug were connected to municipal sewer service, but today nearly 90 percent of homes are.”

The DEM Office of Water Resources recently completed a review of water quality data and shellfish tissue samples collected in the area. The review showed that a 180-acre parcel of Greenwich Bay near Nausauket and the mouth of Apponaug Cove, which since 2002 was classified as prohibited to shellfish harvesting due to excessive fecal coliform levels, has improved water quality meeting national standards for safe shellfish harvesting.  Consequently, DEM moved the north end of the existing closure line near the mouth of Apponaug Cove approximately 4,000 feet eastward from its current location at Capron Farm Drive to Cedar Tree Point (see map on preceding page).

All waters of Greenwich Bay, including the newly opened area, are conditionally approved. This means they are open for shellfish harvest only under certain conditions that are conducive to safe shellfish consumption. Bacteria levels in the conditionally approved waters of Greenwich Bay become elevated after rainfall due to bacteria being transported from shoreside sources to the bay. Therefore, Greenwich Bay closes to shellfish harvest if greater than 0.5” of rain falls in a 24-hour period at nearby TF Green Airport.  The status of Rhode Island’s conditionally approved shellfish areas is available via a recorded message at 401-222-2900 and on this DEM webpage.

In addition to being a conditionally approved shellfish area that has rainfall closures, Greenwich Bay is a designated shellfish management area that has specific daily shellfish harvest limits. These harvest limits, which are in place to preserve sustainable shellfish population levels, can be found in section 4.12 of the DEM Shellfish Regulations.

For more information on the shellfish harvesting classifications, review the annual notice available at RIDEM – Shellfish. An interactive shellfishing map is also available. For information on emergency and conditional area water quality related shellfish closures, call DEM’s 24-hour shell fishing hotline at 401-222-2900, visit www.dem.ri.gov/shellfish, or sign up for the Office of Water Resources’ listserv here: RishellfishOWR-subscribe@listserve.ri.gov.

For information about DEM programs and services, visit www.dem.ri.gov. Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RhodeIslandDEM or on Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM) for timely updates.

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