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Cultivating Consumer Confidence

Woods Hole Sea Grant and State, Local Partners Produce Series of Educational Brochures on Shellfish Harvesting, Safety, Preparation and Nutritional Value

By Judy McDowell, PhD, Woods Hole Sea Grant

Farmed shellfish are now the third most valuable seafood product in Massachusetts. Clearly, maintaining consumers’ confidence in the product is critical for the success and future growth of the important shellfish farming industry. With this in mind, Woods Hole Sea Grant (WHSG) and state and local project partners (Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, Mass. Department of Agricultural Resources, Mass. Shellfish Officers, and Mass. Aquaculture Association) produced and distributed educational materials about health and safety aspects of handling and consuming shellfish harvested in state waters. Funded by a NOAA Sea Grant Aquaculture Extension grant, the partnership produced informational brochures and products on for recreational shellfish harvesters and seafood consumers, on safe harvesting techniques; buying, handling, and preparing safe seafood; the nutritional value of Massachusetts’ shellfish; and a fact sheet for oyster harvesters in Massachusetts on risks associated with the naturally occurring bacterium and potential human pathogen Vibrio parahaemolyticus (Vp). 

The brochure “Safe Shellfish for Recreational Harvesters” covers obtaining a permit to harvest shellfish in Massachusetts, why it is important to follow designated water classification maps, and how best to handle the catch. Brochures went to shellfish authorities in 55 Massachusetts coastal towns, and some communities now include them with every shellfish permit they issue. In a survey to assess the brochure’s effectiveness, all responding shellfish officers described it as an excellent tool that was well received by recreational harvesters. Several even provided examples of recreational harvesters taking extra steps to improve storage and handling practices.

“Tips for Fresh and Tasty Shellfish” tells seafood consumers what to look for or ask when buying live shellfish. It informs them of the risks of eating raw shellfish – especially for those with compromised immune systems, and advises them of the best methods to employ when handling and storing shellfish at home. The brochure also contains shellfish recipes and shucking instructions.

During 2015, WHSG distributed the brochures to 58 seafood retail outlets on Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, where most of the shellfish farms are concentrated. Regional chambers of commerce and town natural resource officers also distribute these. The brochure has been very well received, and retail outlets distributing it consider it a valuable resource for customers. During 2016, Woods Hole Sea Grant will work with the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce to distribute refrigerator magnets at summer rental properties that will carry a brief message for shellfish consumers and a QR code linking to more detailed shellfish information.

The rack card, “Eating Shellfish as Part of a Healthy Diet,” gives nutritional profiles for oysters, hard clams, soft shell clams, blue mussels, and bay scallops harvested in Massachusetts’ waters. The cards were distributed with the brochure mentioned above to 58 seafood retail outlets, natural resource offices, and local chambers of commerce. This material has been popular at presentations on local seafood and in local shellfish related programs, since harvesters and consumers often want to know what is in their catch locally.

“Growing Oysters and the Threat of Vp” is a fact sheet for oyster harvesters outlining the state of our knowledge of Vp. Vp-related illnesses have been an ever-increasing concern for shellfish harvesters in New England, yet much of the current knowledge is based on information from other parts of the country. A recent increase in Vp illnesses linked to raw oyster consumption in Massachusetts has provided the impetus for research on conditions that may affect the risk level of consuming oysters. The fact sheet is a “living” online document that is quickly updated as new information becomes available.

For more information, please contact Joshua Reitsma (jreitsma@barnstablecounty.org) and/or Diane Murphy (dmurphy@barnstablecounty.org) at Woods Hole Sea Grant/Cape Cod Cooperative Extension.

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