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Minutes of the Molluscan Shellfish Committee - 28th July 2020

Location: Video conference (GoToMeeting)
Date: 28th July 2020

  • FSAI: David Lyons (Chair), Christine King (Minutes)
  • MI: Joe Silke, Sinead Keaveney, Patrick Costello
  • SFPA: Paul Duane, Aileen O’Sullivan
  • BIM: Vicky Lyons
  • IFA: Teresa Morrissey
  • Irish Water: Claire Cremin, Marie Feehan
  • Industry: Pat Mulloy (Connemara Seafoods), John Harrington (Kush Shellfish)
  • HSE: Paul Hickey
  • Other: Xiyao Wang (UCD student)
  • Apologies: Liam O’Suilleabhain (EPA), Trish Daly (BIM), Geoff Robinson (BIM), Joanne Gaffney (BIM), Dave Clarke (MI), Conor Duffy (MI), Miche├íl O’Mahony (SFPA), Brian Nolan (SFPA), Valerie Hannon (IW), Finian O’Sullivan (IFA)

1 Minutes of previous meeting (26th May 2020)


DL provided an update on Brexit. Preparations are ongoing. Issues relating to fisheries and LBMs, particularly in relation to shared waters in Lough Foyle, have been highlighted by the FSAI Brexit team and the SFPA.


DL noted that the FSAI have published a Qualitative Risk Assessment on the Development of COVID-19 illness from the Consumption of Bivalve Molluscs. This risk assessment concluded that the risk is negligible.

PM queried if there is any testing being done on shellfish to see if they can carry the SARS-CoV-2 virus. DL confirmed that there is no testing being done in Ireland and there are no plans to conduct this type of testing. SK added that testing shellfish for corona virus would require new methods to be developed. The French NRL have conducted testing on wastewater discharging close to a shellfish production area. Trace amounts of the virus were detected in the wastewater. They also attempted to test the shellfish and corona virus was not detected however as the test methods still need to be further developed it cannot be said for certain that the shellfish were not contaminated with corona virus. SK noted that the risk of corona virus surviving in shellfish is lower than that of Norovirus due to differing virus structure.

PM noted that authorities in Beijing announced that covid-19 was detected in Salmon from Norway and the entire salmon market has been negatively affected as a result. TM noted that the virus was detected on a chopping board used for cutting fish and not on the actual salmon but agreed that this announcement has greatly affected the salmon market in Europe, as the strain of the virus is believed to be a European strain. PM queried whether the FSAI could put out a statement stating that there is no risk of contracting corona virus from seafood. DL stated that the following sentence from the previously mentioned risk assessment is as much as the FSAI can say on the matter – “the risk characterisation, assessed the risk of contracting this high severity illness through the consumption of live or cooked bivalve molluscs carrying SARS-CoV-2, as negligible”. The risk is seen to be negligible however the science will never be able to categorise it as “no risk”.

The previous minutes were accepted and will be posted on the FSAI website.

2 Standing items

Update on shellfish monitoring coordination (SFPA)

PD talked the group through the Sampling Coordination document along with Annex A Micro Sampling Report and Annex B Elevated results. There were 755 official monitoring samples submitted between 01 January and 30 June 2020 and 33 further samples were submitted as part of bacteriological surveys during the same time period. Approx. 3.2% of samples taken between Jan and Jul were out of range. Some alarmingly high levels were detected from A classified production areas, and the month of June had nine out of range results (6.8% of samples taken during June 2020). June 2012 and June 2017 had similar levels of out of range results.

PD noted that the 2020 review of classifications took place on the 24th June 2020 and the recommendations are with the SFPA board for approval. Classifications should be published in the next week or two.

SFPA have agreed to jointly fund the hire of a sampling vessel for Lough Foyle between FSA NI and SFPA to facilitate Native Oyster sampling in both jurisdictions.

Toxicity summary report including production area closures (MI)

JS talked the group through the MI’s Shellfish Safety Report. The biggest issue over the past number of weeks was the PSP toxicity outbreak in the Cromane/Castlemaine area. Elevated PSP levels were detected coming into July, within one week this jumped to 1400 and then increased to 2500 (800 is closure level). High levels of PSP were detected in both mussels and oysters at some of the highest levels ever recorded in shellfish in Ireland. The affected areas are closed for both mussel and oyster harvesting. This is all associated with one bloom of Alexandrium which has peaked, so expecting to see PSP levels decrease over coming weeks. During the same timeframe, elevated DSP levels were observed in the South West (levels of 4.2 in Ardgroom and 5.2 in Tahilla). This has tailed off now and DSP levels have returned to more normal levels expected for this time of year. The event did not migrate up the West coast as originally expected.

There is a weekly sampling frequency for mussels on all coasts and fortnightly for scallops. Coming into August now, which is generally a worrying month for DTX toxins and Azaspiracid. No AZP toxins have been observed so far this year, MI are monitoring closely.

PC noted that there is a comparison of PSP and DSP levels in Castlemaine included at the end of the Shellfish Safety report.

TM thanked DL and the MI for providing the online information session on PSP in the South West on Monday 20th July, which was hugely helpful for producers in the area. JS noted that there was a really good turnout at the session, however there were not many questions. Any questions will be welcomed by the MI at any stage. TM commented that there may still be some confusion over where this PSP came from, however there is an overall greater understanding that it is likely that this is an event that may be seen and need to be managed on a more regular basis.

PH complimented DC and the MI on the clarity and presentation of the information on the HABs website. PH queried whether the Alexandrium in this area could bloom again. JS explained that Alexandrium forms cysts at the end of the bloom which sink into the sediment. After a period of time in the correct conditions the cysts then germinate, come up into the water column and divide which forms the bloom. At the end of the bloom they form cysts again and sink back into the sediment until the next season, therefore causing the bloom to arise annually following this cycle. This type of event has been seen in Cork Harbour for many years at the end of June/July. No survey work has been conducted in Castlemaine yet to assess this bloom, but it is planned for the end of August for the outer parts of Dingle.

PM queried if DSP is rising on the west coast, particularly around Killary Outer. PC noted that phytoplankton counts in Killary Harbour are on the rise for Dinophysis and it are approaching levels of toxicity for DSP.

AOS complimented MI on the HABs database.

Management Cell decisions

PC noted that there was one management cell decision made in July regarding Clifden Outer for razor clam harvesting. An unexpected market opened, accounting for the lack of weekly phytoplankton samples prior to week 27. It was noted that the neighbouring bay of Streamstown had 100% compliance with weekly phytoplankton samples. With this in mind this and considering the flesh test results showing <LOD and of the satisfactory phytoplankton samples for weeks 27 and 28 Clifden Outer (GY-CO-CO) was placed on an open status for razor clams. PM thanked the management cell for their quick response on this issue.

3 Biotoxin Programme

Logistics of biotoxin sampling (IFA Aquaculture)

TM noted that following the PSP information session and the recent closures, questions have been coming in relating to the logistics of biotoxin sampling, and if there is a way of having faster turnaround times for sampling. TM has asked the members of the Co-Op in Cromane to put together a proposal to present to the MSSC in relation to this. One suggestion was for samples to be couriered to the MI for 8am on Monday mornings and another suggestion was to contract Southern Scientific to conduct biotoxin testing.
DL commented that the issue with using Southern Scientific for biotoxin analysis would be that they would need to be designated as an official lab for conducting official controls analysis, meaning they would be subject to specific controls, audits etc. associated with official control labs, which they may not be willing to take on. TM noted that this idea has not yet been brought to Southern Scientific.

VL noted that BIM have also received similar queries relating to using private labs for biotoxin analysis to speed up the process and BIM have given the same information regarding the need for labs to be designated etc. to carry out official control testing.

PM commented that bringing in a second lab may cause confusion for producers. JS commented that the PSP does take longer, as there is an initial screening test, followed by further testing if positive results are observed, which does take the best part of 3 days to complete. JS also noted that Southern Scientific aren’t accredited for PSP analysis and don’t have the methods in place to conduct this testing. It would probably take 1-2 years to get them fully up and running for testing and it is unlikely that they would be willing to get involved for such a small amount of testing. JS noted that the earlier samples are received by the MI the more flexibility they have for scheduling sampling and getting results out as quickly as possible. JS also suggested that as it is likely that this will become a recurring event in June/July each year, shellfish farmers in this area may want to start developing markets outside of these months, as summer closures are quite likely going forward.

PM queried whether id PSP bloom could move on to other bays. JS explained that Alexandrium can be transferred in a number of ways, such as via ballast water from ships, transfer of contaminated shellfish from one area to another and birds moving from one area to another can also carry cysts on their feet. It is unknown how the Alexandrium cysts came into Castlemaine. TM queried whether this is being investigated. JS explained that the movement of cysts could have occurred many years ago, with cysts lying dormant for a long period of time. Alexandrium is seen all along the south coast, including non-toxic blooms so it would eb very difficult to determine the source of the Alexandrium in Castlemaine Harbour. PM asked if the Alexandrium stays once it is in an area. JS explained that this is what has been observed in Cork Harbour, and the life cycle of the bloom is well understood in this area. More research and data is needed in the Castlemaine area to better understand and predict the bloom.

4 Microbiology and Virology

Norovirus testing requests based on customer specifications – resources and practicalities if this was to be carried out (IFA Aquaculture)

TM noted that producers (outside the Oyster Packers Group) are finding that customers are requesting Norovirus results as part of product specifications. Concerns that the resources and practicality to provide Norovirus testing at this level aren’t available, however this appears to be becoming a trend. SK noted that testing for Norovirus in the MI is at maximum capacity at the moment. The MI are completely committed for the upcoming Autumn/Winter and have had to turn down requests from Irish and UK producers looking for Norovirus testing. SK requested that TM obtain a list of those who require Norovirus testing so that demand and frequency for the future can be understood and options can be explored. Resources are limited for Norovirus testing within the MI as it is a small group.

VL noted that a tender had been put out previously for Norovirus testing in commercial labs, which SK had offered to assist in training etc. but there was no interest from the commercial labs. However, will try again, timing may be better now as there is more demand from the industry for Norovirus testing, taking into account the potential Norovirus limits being brought in by the Commission. TM agreed that she will try to identify the demand. DL agreed that the demand is likely to increase as the Norovirus limit comes into play. DL noted that the MI are compelled to share their results with the competent authorities, so producers may prefer to have their Norovirus testing conducted by private labs. DL also noted that Norovirus testing isn’t limited to LBMs. VL noted that BIM conducted a feasibility study to look at the actual cost to set up a lab for Norovirus testing, and for extending the scope to other food products, so this information is available.


Norovirus limit proposal

AOS noted that there has been no update since the previous meeting in terms of a Norovirus limit proposal.

Text alerts/notifications from HABs

JH queried whether it would be possible to get a notification from the website when the status of a particular area has been changed (similar to text updates previously received). He explained that for harvesters working in production areas it would be handy to receive a notification rather than having to continually check the website to see if the status has been updated. JS explained that the HABs website has been designed to work on both computer screens and smartphone screens for ease of use, there are no plans to go back to the text service. TM suggested that if HABs was developed as an actual smartphone app, push notifications could be activated so that producers receive a notification for their selected areas when the status is changed. JS stated that these suggestions would be noted on the wish list, however there are a few more developments which will have to take priority.
PM noted that there are some issues with the map viewer on HABs at the moment. JS noted that the MI are aware of this and it will be corrected in the next deployment.

Next MSSC will take place on Tuesday 27th October at 11am