Skip to main content

Minutes of the Molluscan Shellfish Committee - 23rd March 2021

Date: 23rd March 2021, 11am
Location: Video-conference

  • FSAI: David Lyons (chair), Christine King (minutes)
  • SFPA: Aileen O’Sullivan, Brian Nolan, Micheál O’Mahony, Peter McGroary, Bernard O’Donovan, Gráinne O’Keefe
  • MI: Sinead Keaveney, Pat Costello, Conor Duffy, Annaclare McCarthy
  • IFA: Teresa Morrissey, Finian O’Sullivan
  • BIM: Vicky Lyons, Trish Daly, Richard Donnelly, Joanne Gaffney
  • Irish Water: Clare Cremin, Kate Harrington, Valerie Hannon
  • HSE: Paul Hickey
  • Industry: Pat Mulloy
  • Apologies: Liam O’Suilleabhain (EPA), Joe Silke (MI), Dave Clarke (MI), Geoff Robinson (BIM), Charlotte Picard (IW), Mark Dowling (IW)


DL introduced Peter McGroary, Sanitary Survey Coordinator with the SFPA and Gráinne O’Keefe, SFPO with the SFPA.

1. Review of minutes & matters arising from the last meeting (27th October 2020)

BN noted that the latest revision of the Code of Practice for the Classification and Microbiological Monitoring of Bivalve Mollusc Production Areas in Ireland went live in December 2020. This is available on the SFPA’s website.

PH noted an error in the first paragraph of page 4 – the word “more” as been deleted from the minutes.

DL asked MOM to give a brief update on the EFSA scallop opinions. MOM noted that the EFSA Opinion on Lipophilic toxins in scallops was published in early March, the Domoic Acid opinion has not yet been published. These opinions are being produced at the request of the Commission to examine scallop shucking as a risk management system for the removal of both Lipophilic toxins (e.g. DSP and AZA) and Domoic Acid (e.g. ASP). Ireland is currently the only member state deemed to be non-compliant with EU legislation in terms of scallop shucking.

The Lipophilic opinion is regarded as of less importance to Ireland than the Domoic Acid opinion will be. EFSA have endorsed shucking as a risk management tool for Lipophilic toxins, and it is hoped that they will reach a similar conclusion for Domoic Acid. MOM noted that he is a hearing expert on both working groups.

DL thanked MOM for this update and opened the floor to questions.

CD queried whether Ireland’s comments on the last draft of the Lipophilic opinion were taken on board. MOM responded that some were but not all. FOS queried the issues that the Commission have with scallop shucking. MOM explained that the Commission believe Ireland is interpreting the legislation incorrectly and therefore Ireland are being brought to the European Court of Justice. PM queried when the court proceedings would take place. MOM stated that he was unsure, a letter of formal notice was served 3 years ago, however nothing has been heard on the matter since.

MOM suggested that he could do a more in-depth presentation on this topic at the next MSSC. DL agreed that this would be a good idea, and it would be useful to get some of the groups likely to be affected by this to attend.

Action: Include scallops discussion as an agenda item for Q2 MSSC

The minutes were agreed and will be posted on the FSAI website in 7 days.

2. Brexit Update

BOD gave an update on the impact of Brexit:

  • To date, the shellfish industry has not been hugely impacted by Brexit
  • The date for the introduction of Export Health Certs (for products being exported to the UK from the EU) and Transit Certs (for products travelling through the UK via the Landbridge) has been deferred from 01st April 2021 to 01st October 2021 – this is an important date for the shellfish/aquaculture industry
  • The date for additional import controls for products coming from the UK has been deferred from 01st July 2021 to 01st January 2022.
  • The SFPA will run webinars etc. in the lead up to these dates.
  • The requirement for transit certs for using the Landbridge is likely to push businesses to use direct ferries.

DL thanked BOD and opened the floor to questions.

RD queried whether there have been any updates on B classified shellfish leaving GB for the EU. BOD responded that this is a highly politicised issue and it appears the door is closed for this type of trade for the time being.

FOS noted that although many transport companies changed from using the landbridge to direct routes last winter, they will want to have the option of going through GB as a contingency plan (e.g. bad weather etc.), which will raise issues around issuing certs etc.

FOS queried whether vet inspections will be required for certification and who will issue the certs. BOD responded that there will be 2 types of certs; Export Health Certs, which will be signed by the SFPA, and Transit Certs (landbridge), which there is no definitive decision on who will be signing yet. BOD and colleagues are awaiting further clarification from DEFRA on what is required for transit certs before a decision on who the certifying officers will be is made.

PM queried whether the certs would be physical or e-certs. BOD stated that there is no definitive decision as yet, however it is looking likely that physical certs will have to accompany each consignment. FOS noted that the practicalities of physical certs needs to be considered. BOD urged caution in terms of expectations that trucks will be able to decide to use the landbridge at the last minute, as there is a 48-hour window required by the SFPA to issue certs.

TM and PM queried what fees would be charged in relation to issuing certs. BOD noted that the SFPA have no current plans to collect fees for issuing health certs to industry.

PM queried if BOD could give regular updates on Brexit at the MSSC. BOD and DL agreed with this suggestion. DL also reminded the group that the SFPA will be running webinars on this topic. BOD noted that >500 representatives from the fishing industry have attended the SFPA’s Brexit seminars over the past 6 months. DL thanked BOD for his time.

3. Standing Items

Update on Shellfish Monitoring Coordination

BN gave an overview of the 2020 classification monitoring programme;

  • A total of 1539 (92% of target) microbiological samples were taken by Sea Fishery Protection Officers during 2020 as part of the Microbiological Monitoring of Bivalve Mollusc Production Areas.
  • A further 57 microbiological samples were taken in areas seeking preliminary Classification or were submitted under a series of bacteriological surveys as part of Sanitary Surveys of: Gweedore, Drumcliff, Sligo Bay and Dungarvan.
  • In 2020, SFPA detected a total of 61 out-of-range results (3.9% of all classification monitoring samples taken), from the national classification monitoring programme, a slight increase over the 58 out-of-range results detected during 2019 and an increase on the previous 10 year average of 51 per year, or approximately 3.2% of samples taken.
  • The months of January (7), June (9), July (8), and August (14) produced higher than average numbers of out of range results (Monthly 4.5).
  • Covid-19 restrictions on movement and reduction in foreign visitors did not appear to translate to less recordings of out of range results.

Annex B gives details and summary of out of range or elevated results reported to FSAI/ISA/BIM during the period Jan – March 2021. In brief, there were 4 out of range results to date during 2021, approximately 1.5% of samples taken. A comparison for the previous two years is also included.

BN gave an update on current biotoxin sampling frequencies:

  • Weekly sampling frequency for Mussels on all coasts.
  • Fortnightly sampling frequency for Scallops from classified areas.
  • All other production areas - Monthly sampling frequency for all shellfish other than Mussels, with the exception of Bantry Bay which has been placed on precautionary weekly sampling based on MI advice that ASP causative species are increasing.

BN noted that the 2018 – 2020 classification dataset has commenced, and a review date is tbc. PM queried whether there could be a pre-meeting to this year’s classification review meeting, as last year’s meeting had too many people involved. BN agreed that the structure of how the meeting is run will have to be looked at. DL agreed with this and noted while it is important for everyone to be able to voice their concerns, there should be some ground rules. DL suggested that himself and BN would agree a set of ground rules in advance of the meeting, the group agreed with this suggestion.

Toxicity Summary Report

PC talked the group through the toxicity summary report for the MI;

  • No site closures between November 2020 & March 2021
  • Two management cell decisions were made between November 2020 and March 2021
  • No samples tested above regulatory limits for AZP or DSP between Nov ’20 an March ‘21
  • All samples submitted for PSP analysis between Nov ’20 and Mar ’21 were typically N.D.
  • All samples submitted for YTX & PTX analysis between Nov ’20 and Mar ’21 were typically <LOD
  • Evidence of spring bloom of ASP since week 10

CD noted that the instrument for ASP analysis that had been down is now back up and running, and the MI are waiting for the INAB to sign off a new instrument that will be used as a back-up machine.

FOS queried if PCR testing is taking place to differentiate between the pseudo-nitzchia species. PC noted that the MI do not have the resources to do this. CD noted that every sample undergoes an initial screen for ASP.

CD noted that Cyanotoxins are becoming an issue around Europe. These toxins are common in Freshwater but can move into marine environments and France has reported an illness from the consumption of sea food which has been traced to anatoxin A arising from a freshwater environment. Therefore, several European countries have begun testing for Cyanotoxins. There are no regulatory limits for this toxin in the marine environment.

CD noted that the final open meeting of the international Alertoxnet project, that the MI have been involved in, is taking place this Friday 26th March and all are welcome to attend. CK will circulate the meeting details once received from CD.

4. Sanitary Survey Update

PMcG gave an update on how the SFPA’s sanitary survey programme is progressing:

  • There is a legal obligation to conduct sanitary surveys in all production areas (58 production areas in Ireland)
  • The original contract with Aquafact to conduct 10 sanitary surveys is ongoing. 
    • Below is a summary of what is happening/has happened:
      1. Killary Approaches New classification Completed with Rmp for razor clams
      2. Ballinakill Existing Classification Completed with new Rmp’s
      3. Sligo Harbour Existing classification Completed with new Rmp’s
      4. Drumcliff Bay Existing classification Completed with new Rmp’s and boundary changes
      5. Gweedore Harbour Existing classification Completed with new Rmp’s and boundary changes
      6. Ballylongford Existing classification Completed with new Rmp’s and boundary changes*
      7. Blacksod Bay Existing classification Completed with new Rmp’s and boundary changes*
      8. Dungarvan Existing classification Final draft stage under review.
      9. Sruwaddacon Bay New classification Desktop and shoreline completed. Awaiting 1st version of final draft.
      10. Roaringwater Bay Existing classification Desktop completed. Shoreline to commence soon
  • Discussions with the MI to collaborate on the next set of surveys are ongoing
  • In the meantime, a public tender for 5 sanitary surveys is being finalised to keep things moving until the MoU with the MI is agreed.

DL acknowledged the good quality progress that has been made so far. KH queried what criteria is used to decide whether to exclude outflows and overflows from boundaries. PMcG responded that decisions are made on a case by case basis as each bay is unique. PM thanked PMcG for his work on the sanitary surveys.

FOS queried whether the sanitary surveys have identified any issues that could be addressed quickly and easily. PMcG noted that for industry, the sanitary survey data is a great baseline to work from as it gives an indication of where the pollution is coming from for each specific bay. PM queried if the information regarding contamination issues is shared with other agencies or is it just in the SS report. PMcG noted that the information is just in the SS reports, however these will be made public.

5. Biotoxin Programme

Hand delivery of samples to the MI

The MI and IFA Aquaculture have been in talks to resolve the issues around the need for some samples to be hand delivered to the MI, and it is hoped that a solution will be finalised soon. PM thanked the MI for their assistance with this issue.

PM noted that there is still no solution for Castletownbere samples and asked MOM if the SFPA could come to an agreement with them for this area. MOM noted that he is happy to discuss the issue, however there is a low level of willingness from the SFPA to move from the current regime due to historic events.

Biotoxin COP review

DL noted that he has spoken to DC regarding the review of the Biotoxin COP. The necessary changes will be made (e.g. the new amalgamation of areas) and circulated for comment in advance of the next MSSC.

6. Microbiology and Virology

AOS noted that there has been no update from the LBM working group on the NoV legislation since this time last year. MOM noted that the ECDC report for 2019 showed that NoV in molluscs was the number one cause of foodborne illness, so it is likely that interest in the NoV WG and legislation will pick up again.

SK noted that there was a 40% decrease in the prevalence of NoV during winter 2020/2021. The concentration of NoV detected also dropped, with 97% of positive samples being under the LOQ. There were some spikes in NoV in January 2021, which is likely due to the reduced covid-19 restrictions over the Christmas period. SK stated that it is important to note that NoV has not gone away, its transmission has just been reduced due to covid-19 protection measures.

Colleagues of SK in France have noted a number of small NoV in shellfish outbreaks in recent months and it is interesting to note that the schools in France didn’t close over the winter period.

7. AOB

The next MSSC is scheduled for Tuesday 25th May 2021 at 11am. Meeting details will be sent out closer to the time.