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Minutes of the Molluscan Shellfish Safety Committee - 14th March 2024

Location: Videoconference 

  • FSAI: David Lyons (chair), Una Walton (minutes)
  • SFPA:, Susan Coughlan, Michelle Moloney , Niall O'Rahelly, Aileen OSullivan
  • MI: Conor Duffy, Sinead Keaveney, Patrick Costello, Joe Silke, Bill Dore, Dave Clarke
  • IFA: Teresa Morrissey, John Harrington 
  • BIM: Vicky Lyons, Patricia Daly, Gary McCoy 
  • Industry: Pat Mulloy, Tristan Hugh-Jones  
  • FSA NI: Jenny Duckett
  • Irish Water: Charlotte Picard


  • Finian O’Sullivan, Will Wiltshire, Peter Gaffey, Felix Sproll, Joanne Gaffney 

1. Introductions 

DL welcomed Bill Dore to the meeting. Bill has returned to the role of Team Leader for Shellfish Microbiology at the Marine Institute (MI).

2. Minutes and matters arising from the last meeting (09.11.2023)

Bantry Lab Update

The MI is actively engaged in discussions with the lab analyst currently on a career break from the Bantry Lab. A formal decision is expected soon, and plans are underway to convene a meeting with stakeholders to provide an update. 

TM inquired about the timeline for returning to a full count of phytoplankton. DC confirmed this was implemented mid-January, with the MI resuming operations at the same sentinel sites as before.

Sanitary Survey Workshop 

DL expressed gratitude to all attendees and presenters of the Sanitary Survey Workshop and encouraged anyone with further questions to reach out.

In-Person MSSC Meetings

Following a discussion, the meeting agreed that one of the four MSSC meetings should be held in person. TM suggested Galway as the preferred location.

DL proposed scheduling an additional MSSC meeting to discuss the Scallop Issue.
Action: DC to inquire about hosting the next MSSC Meeting (29th May) in the Marine Institute in Galway. 
UPDATE: DC confirmed MSSC meeting will be hosted at the MI.
The previous minutes were agreed.

3.    Standing Items

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

MM provided an update on the sampling activity from January to February 2024.

  • 265 samples taken (Annex A).
  • 4 out-of-range results from Jan to Feb 2024 (1.5%). This marks an increase from the previous year, where only 2 out-of-range results were detected during the same timeframe.

NO’R provided an update on Sanitary Surveys: 

  • The Kilmakilloge sanitary survey is completed and is currently undergoing final review and approval internally by the SFPA before publishing.
  • The Bantry Gearhies survey is under review. There was a delay due to additional information provided.
  • A new sanitary survey is initiated for Cork Harbour.
  • A Risk Ranking Matrix is established for all new industry requests to prioritise them effectively.
  • Several meetings with senior leadership at the SFPA took place to address industry feedback. It has been agreed that there should be more input from industry stakeholders throughout different stages of the sanitary survey process. 
  • A typical sanitary survey conducted by Aquafact takes between four to five months to complete. However, if new information surfaces during the survey review, it could extend the timeline.

1.    TM requested to see the risk ranking matrix.

  • NO'R summarised that the main components of the matrix include species, with considerations such as whether certain species are consumed raw (e.g., raw oysters), which would prioritise them higher. Other factors are location, population source, and occurrences of norovirus events. NO'R will provide TM with a document containing the risk ranking matrix.

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

PC presented the MI’s toxicity report. 

From November 2023 to March 2024, there were no site closures.

  • In January 2024, a management cell decision was made regarding Phytoplankton submissions. The bay has since been opened.

JH highlighted the absence of any significant biotoxin closures in nine years and inquired about the MI's observations on changes in volumes of phytoplankton around the coast of Ireland.

DC noted the following points:

  • The MI published an Irish Ocean Climate and Ecosystem Status Report 
  • Chapter 5  of the report provides detailed insights into the last two decades of phytoplankton abundance around the coast of Ireland, specifically focusing on the Southwest and West regions.
  • Significant changes observed in the occurrence of different phytoplankton groups. The timing and duration of these occurrences are concerning and have also been observed internationally.
  • MI launched a research project with Atlantic Technological University, with a postdoc researcher specifically examining changes in phytoplankton currents and if this is an Irish issue. A lot of countries toxin profiles are changing.
  • The MI primarily looks at changes in phytoplankton from a climate change perspective and the changes occurring in the marine ecosystem.

JH queried what knowledge MI has of ocean acidification? DC advised that the Marine Chemistry Team, are researching passive carbon dioxide and ocean acidification. They have observed a drop, highlighted through the climate change matrix group, which is also detailed in Chapter 4 ‘Ocean Chemistry’ of the Ocean Climate Ecosystem Status Report .

c. Biotoxin & Phytoplankton Monitoring 2023 

DC presented observations on phytoplankton and Biotoxin monitoring for 2023 (attached). 
Key points noted:

  • 2750 samples were analysed, resulting in over 4348 analyses. 11,278 sets of results were published on the website. 3268 phytoplankton samples were examined.
  • Five toxin groups were monitored as per EU legislation.
  • Comparison of 2023 concentrations with data from the past seven years revealed relatively low levels of Azaspiracid (AZP) compared to the previous year.
  • Emphasis on widespread AZP occurrences across the island without specific geographical limitation.
  • Two closures during 2023 due to Diarrhetic toxin events. Different patterns in toxin profiles every year are observed.
  • Results displayed in the graph for Paralytic Shellfish toxins do not include PSP safe project samples. A precautionary closure was implemented at the end of May 2023.Additionally, a second intoxication event was recorded in August 2023. This is an area of concern, and the MI will be carrying out additional monitoring in 2024. 
  • Molecular analysis was highlighted for its role in confirming species level, particularly concerning the Alexandrium species. This species has the potential to bloom and is considered a significant concern.

4. Microbiology and Virology 

SK provided a summary on norovirus monitoring: 

  • The MI conducted testing for various oyster producers, FBOs, members of the Irish Oyster Packers group, and other producers who include norovirus in their HAACP plans.
  • Weekly testing has been ongoing since October 2023, revealing that the peak of norovirus contamination occurred in January and February 2024.
  • Data collected from the Oyster Packers group from October to January indicated that 95% of samples tested positive for norovirus. These positive samples were equally split between those below and above the limit of quantification. Despite a high percentage of positive samples, there is still a significant amount of low-level contamination during the winter months. However, peak contamination reached 3,000 to 4,000 copies at peak times.
  • The MI will transition back to a monthly testing program starting from April onwards. The project, funded through BIM, will continue until October 2024 with possibility of extension. 
  • The concentrations of contamination detected remained consistent with 2022, however, the timing of the peak contamination shifted from December last winter to January/February this winter.

5. Infringement Proceedings -Scallops Update 

AOS provided an update on the ongoing infringement proceedings between Ireland and the Commission regarding scallops testing:

  • The issue has persisted since the Santé F Audit in 2011, primarily due to different interpretations of the legislation concerning whole body analysis versus separately analysing edible parts of Scallops.
  • Ireland has maintained a comprehensive testing program, with extensive testing and sampling conducted by the MI. Despite efforts to manage risks, the Commission has held firm that legislative requirements were not being met and insisted on more whole-body testing.
  • The SFPA submitted a proposal to the Commission which entails increasing the number of official control samples of whole scallops from offshore areas, with the whole body being analysed for all three toxin groups.
  • The Commission has accepted the proposal, potentially leading to the closure of the infringement proceedings. However, implementation of this proposal is crucial. Preparation for this change is substantial, including consultation with industry stakeholders.
  • Current efforts focus on addressing practicalities, such as developing flow diagrams for inshore and offshore operations, with further communication planned to clarify the practical implications for the Scallop industry.

PMu raised two questions: 

1.    Potential differences with testing the whole animal and how that will affect fishermen?

2.    Potential variations in testing regimes for offshore and inshore?

DL clarified that Inshore aquaculture scallops will be treated as an inshore aquaculture species. Offshore fish species from unclassified areas will be treated differently.

CD informed that: 

  • Historically, offshore scallops have had only their meat and gonads sent to approved processing plants, with no testing conducted on the whole animal.
  • Data from testing the meat and gonads demonstrates that approved processors are very efficient at shucking scallops, with the abductor never exceeding the regulatory limit, and gonads exceeding it only at a very low frequency. 
  • Whole animals pose a hazard due to the hepatic pancreas, which can accumulate AST levels surpassing regulatory limits. Testing the entire animal for AST is proposed, with a threshold set at 250 (mg/kg). If AST levels in the whole animal exceed 250, it cannot proceed for processing. However, if levels are below 250, processing can occur, with the abductor muscle separated before market placement.

6. AOB

Live Bivalve Molluscs Working (LBM) Group

AOS informed that LMB working group has called upon member states to think about the current system. This presents an opportunity to look at the legislation, biotoxins, sanitary surveys etc. 
Water Quality Information Session

GMcC provided an update on the recent Castlemaine Harbour Water Quality Information Session, highlighting its success. There are hopes to conduct more sessions in other production areas. TM expressed a desire for additional sessions on water quality, highlighting its importance to the shellfish industry.
Action: GMcC to share presentation from water quality session with MSSC members 

UPDATE: On 30.04.24, GMcC circulated to the MSSC group the information gathered from the water quality Information session.