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Minutes of the Molluscan Shellfish Safety Committee - 17th August 2023

Location: Videoconference

  • FSAI: David Lyons (chair), Una Walton (minutes)
  • SFPA: Gary McCoy (GMcC) , Emma McLoughney (EMcL), Aileen O’Sullivan (AOS), Michelle Moloney
  • MI: Patrick Costello (PC), Dave Clarke (DC)
  • IFA: Teresa Morrissey (TM), John Harrington (JH), Finian O’Sullivan (FOS)
  • BIM: Vicky Lyons, Joanne Gaffney, Patricia Daly
  • Industry: Patrick Murphy (PM), Conor Graham, Sean Gallanagh, Conor Graham, Dean Murphy
  • Irish Water: Charlotte Picard, Carla McNeil
  • EPA: Liam O’Suilleabhain
  • FSA NI: Jenny Duckett, Will Wiltshire

Apologies: Joe Silke, Sinead Keavney, Jonathan Kelly, Sarah Buckley, Conor Duffy, Tristan Hugh-Jones, Pat Mulloy, Ciaran Mcgonigle

1. Minutes and matters arising from the last meeting (21st June 2023)

TM inquired about the status of the actions from the previous meeting. DL noted a sanitary survey session is being organised, and a suitable date is being looked at. The review of the Code of Practice (COP) is ongoing. EMcL added that SFPA had reached out to the Marine Institute (MI) regarding hydrographic surveys however, there is no local data available for Roaringwater Bay. SFPA is exploring alternative means to obtain salinity data in that area.

Roaringwater Bay

FOS raised a question about the benefit of establishing a 200-meter radius on the water to classify an area that is not relevant to a growing area. DL clarified that there is flexibility in the sanitary survey process to allow for a sample to be taken, if necessary, from within a 200m radius of the identified Representative Monitoring Point (RMP).

Biotoxins and microbiological contamination originate from different sources, so it's essential to consider the overall usefulness of a single monitoring point. DL noted this discussion might be more appropriate when discussing the COP.

GMcC clarified that for the Roaringwater bay monitoring point, the 200-meter radius is part of the community guide to good practice and is intended for micro sampling classification. It does not always correspond to the biotoxin sampling location.

PM raised concerns about the selection of sampling points and Interpretation of the guidelines and how they’ve changed i.e., rainfall data criteria. PM expressed frustration that these issues have not been resolved. PM suggested looking into how other member states apply the EU legislation.

DL emphasised the importance of maintaining consistency and objectivity throughout the process, aligning with the Community Guide to the Principles of Good Practice for the Microbiological Classification and Monitoring of Bivalve Mollusc Production.

A previous audit report (DG(SANCO) 2011-6007), which DL shared, highlighted several issues that were identified in how live bivalve molluscs are managed in Ireland. DL encouraged attendees to reflect on the findings of previous missions and consider the direction they wish to pursue, taking into account the best interests of all parties involved. DL also suggested that any conflicts with the COP could be addressed by submitting feedback for consideration during the COP review process.

TM mentioned her participation in the COP review group, where discussions about comparing different classification systems across Europe have been ongoing. TM encouraged growers to submit their input through the representative body. TM also noted that the issue of pre classification will be addressed under the COP review.

AOS agreed with DL's point about the need to implement legislation and best practice guidance to meet audit requirements. The Commission has concerns about the consistent application of official controls across Member States.

FOS and JH emphasised the importance of a coordinated approach in making arguments at MSSC meetings. FOS stressed the need to stay updated on any changes in the COP that could impact on the industry. TM acknowledged the role of industry representatives at MSSC meetings.

DL explained that the objective of the MSSC is to maintain an open forum, allowing individuals to contribute their input. In cases where issues arise, DL encouraged individuals to present evidence of the problem, and the committee would make an effort to address it rather than simply acknowledging the matter.

Bantry Gearhies – pre classification: TM noted that the issue of pre classification will be addressed under the COP review.

Action: DL to inquire with SFPA about the process for handling feedback on the outcome of sanitary survey.

The previous minutes were agreed. They will be posted to the FSAI website in one week, if there are any comments in the meantime, please send them to the minute taker.

2. Standing Items

a. Update on Shellfish Monitoring Co-ordination (SFPA)

GMcC provided an update on the sampling activity thus far for 2023 and presented an overview of the Q2 2023 Classification Monitoring Programme (see attached).

  • 791 samples taken in Q2 2023 (annex A, attached)
  • 12 samples taken in areas seeking preliminary classification.
  •  29 out of range results from Jan to July (Annex B, attached). (Annex B, attached) GMcC noted this is an Increase on the previous period and highlighted that out-of-range results can be due to unusual weather events, noting one of the wettest Julys this year.
  • The 2023 sanitary survey programme was discussed, listing the planned sanitary surveys in order.
  • The process of the 2023 Annual review of classifications process was outlined. 20 submissions were submitted, which was an increase from the previous year. The management board approved that amended list of classifications and that is now live up in the on the SFPA website.

JH inquired about the process for adding an area for mussel production in cases where there is a new zone. Specifically, how can an area be integrated into the system?

GMcC explained that Industry can approach SFPA or their local port office and express their interest in adding a new species to a production area, particularly for classification purposes. This information feeds into SFPA's planning for the scope and list of sanitary surveys. SFPA is also in the process of developing an application process for industry stakeholders to fill out and submit. This approach is currently under review with the aim of implementation in the future.

DL noted designation of areas is handled through Environment, Housing and Local Government.

b. Toxicity Summary Report including Production Area Closures (MI)

PC provide an update on the MI’s toxicity report (attached).

  • One site closure for DSP in Tahila.
  • MC recommend opening Castlemaine Harbour for all species with weekly monitoring to Continue.
  • No samples tested above regulatory levels for AZP.
  • DSP event in Tahila tested above regulatory limits.
  • No samples tested above regulatory levels for ASP between June to August, excluding scallops.
  •  Since mid-June, it has been observed that nothing has been detected for PSP around the country. The events which started relatively early this year in May never went above the regulatory limit for the national monitoring programme samples. The table showing the PSP safe project results displays observed concentrations, and there was one instance in June where it exceeded the regulatory limit but dropped down soon after. By the end of June, all were typically observed to be N.D. (not detected).
  •  All samples submitted for YTX analysis during March-June 2023 were observed to be below <LOD

Bantry Phytoplankton Lab

DC provided some background on the situation. In March 2023, the laboratory analyst responsible for phytoplankton analysis at the Bantry Lab was granted a 12-month career break. Subsequently, MI met with IFA Aquaculture twice, in May and June, to address their concerns.

TM and FOS inquired about the point at which a decision will be made regarding the laboratory's reopening and if a policy decision has been made.

DC clarified that no decisions have been made. Mitigation measures are in place. Two new analysts were trained in Galway. Phytoplankton taxonomy is a highly specialised discipline that takes years to learn. When someone new assumes the position, it typically takes between 6 to 12 months to become proficient. MI could not place someone without the required supervision and expertise in an ISO-accredited area.

DC advised that decisions depend on analyst readiness and discussion with the analyst on a career break. IFA Aquaculture expressed their view that it is inappropriate to continually refer to one individual’s personal decision to take a career break, to which they are entitled, throughout these discussions.

DC advised that mitigation measures have been effective. The only delays are affecting those who hand-deliver samples; processing times for lab-entered samples are normal. These samples are being mailed to Galway and are being processed within the same time frames. DC emphasised the importance of considering the entire national monitoring programme, Bantry lab's samples make up 7-10% of the of the weekly samples received.

DC confirmed that as soon as MI have made a policy decision to close or reopen Bantry Laboratory, it will be communicated with IFA Aquaculture.

PM raised concern as to whether MI has mitigation measures in place when key staff leave the organisation. DC confirmed that MI has business continuity planning in place, with food safety being of high importance. These measures encompass not only staff but also technical equipment.

Harmful Algal Bloom Species Bulletin (HABs)

DC provided background on the Harmful Algal Blooms Bulletin (HABs). This weekly bulletin has been produced by MI since 2013 and serves to provide a short-term forecast for predicting potential harmful algal bloom events. The prediction is based on the expert evaluation of three sets of data:

* In-situ Data: This includes biotoxin and phytoplankton data.

* Remote Sensing Data: Involves chlorophyll concentrations and sea surface temperatures.

* Hydrodynamic Modeling Data: Used for Bantry Bay and Killary/Cleggan.

The bulletin has not changed in the past 10 years and MI received several inquiries as to whether the bulletin could be improved and made more user friendly. The bulletin has now undergone a significant update and refresh following Interreg Atlantic Area funding through the Primrose project (Predicting the Impact of Regional Scale events on the Aquaculture sector), making it more visually appealing, intuitive and informative with new graphics and trends, including heat maps for quick hotspot identification.

The bulletin has been divided into four regions, visually represented with color-coded donuts for easier regional assessment. Green means no issues, while orange and red indicate warnings. Graphs include trend lines and regulatory levels for better data interpretation.

For shellfish species, expanded graphs provide a year-long history, showcasing trends in toxin levels. Similar visualisations are available for phytoplankton species.

For finfish, heat maps display harmful algal bloom species known to cause issues. Enhanced graphs show trends over time.

Satellite imagery data includes chlorophyll, sea surface temperatures, and temperature data coming from the marine buoy network. Hydrodynamic modelling and particle tracking simulation data have been expanded for better understanding.

The time taken to generate the report has now been significantly improved and can now be generated in minutes rather than the current 2 - 3 hours.

FOS inquired about the detection of heterocapsa and Azadinium species and how they are being confirmed.

DC explained that while Azadinium spinosum is confirmed to produce Azaspiracids in Ireland, it's challenging to detect by light microscopy due to its small size, resembling Heterocapsa. MI acknowledges the limitations of light microscopy in differentiating between the two, so they mention both possibilities. PCR methods can distinguish between them, which MI primarily use in research projects. PCR methods are not in legislation, so they're very developmental. Research is ongoing to develop high-throughput PCR methods for faster and more accurate identification of phytoplankton species for both fish and shellfish toxins.

3. Microbiology and Virology

No update provided by MI.

DL advised that a micro COP review meeting was held on the 26th July and subsequent meetings will continue.

4. AOB

a. Shellfish Safety Workshop 17th October 2023

DC provided an update on the scheduled Shellfish Safety Workshop for October 17, 2023. This marks the 12th workshop in the series, initiated by MI in the year 2000. It's the first workshop since October 2019. The workshop will feature two keynote speakers, and the agenda will be divided, hopefully in a 50-50 ratio, between biotoxins plankton and shellfish microbiology.

To register for the workshop, participants can access the ticket by scanning a QR code. This code will provide access to the event tickets. The final agenda and list of speakers will be confirmed and made available in early September.

Action: UW to circulate promotional text for Shellfish Safety Workshop

UPDATE: UW shared with MSSC colleagues on the 22nd August.

DL and the meeting thanked Gary for his work and efforts on the Shellfish Monitoring Programme and wished him well in his new role at BIM.

Gary expressed his gratitude to everyone in the MSSC and welcomed Michelle Moloney to the new role. Michelle has been working with the SFPA for the last 2 years.