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Minutes of the Molluscan Shellfish Safety Committee - 10th March 2022

Minutes of the Molluscan Shellfish Safety Committee Meeting
on the 10th March 2022

Date: 10/03/2022
Location: Videoconference

  • FSAI: David Lyons (chair), Christine King (minutes)
  • SFPA: Gary McCoy
  • MI: Patrick Costello, Conor Duffy, Sinead Keaveney, Joe Silke
  • IFA: Teresa Morrissey, Finian O’Sullivan
  • BIM: Vicky Lyons, Richard Donnelly, Trish Daly
  • IW: Charlotte Picard, Carla McNeil
  • HSE: Paul Hickey
  • EPA: Liam O’Suilleabhain
  • Industry: Pat Mulloy
  • Apologies: Sarah Buckley (SFPA), Joanne Gaffney (BIM), Aileen O’Sullivan (SFPA), Miche├íl O’Mahony (SFPA), Dave Clarke (MI), Clare Cremin (IW)

1. Minutes and matters arising from the last meeting (08th August 2021)

The previous minutes were reviewed and agreed. DL advised that they will be posted on the FSAI website in 7 days and comments can be submitted in the meantime.

2. Standing Items

a. Brexit & import controls

DL advised that the FSAI have no further updates on this topic other than what has been reported in the media. The 01st of July is the next significant date in terms of Brexit and import controls, however we are still waiting for further information from the UK in relation to health certification requirements and phytosanitary checks for goods going to the UK.
FOS noted that transiting through the UK seems to be working well.
b. Update on Shellfish Monitoring Co-ordination (SFPA)
GMcC gave an update on shellfish monitoring and provided the below report and annexes.

  • A total of 1531 (93% of target) microbiological samples were taken by Sea Fishery Protection Officers during 2021 as part of the Microbiological Monitoring of Bivalve Mollusc Production Areas (Annex A).
  • A further 53 microbiological samples were taken in a number of areas seeking preliminary classification. These include Broadhaven (POY), Ballinakill (NOY) and Clew Bay North & South (NOY).
  • Drumcliff was awarded a preliminary classification B for Clams Venerupis Corrugate in December 2021. The list of Classified production areas in Ireland has been amended.
  • In 2021, SFPA detected a total of 52 out of range results (3.4% of all classification monitoring samples taken), from the national classification monitoring programme, a decrease from the 61 out of range results detected during 2020 and is slightly over on the previous 10-year average of 51 per year or approximately 3.2% of samples taken.
  • The months of April, May, July, August, September, and October produced higher than average numbers of out-of-range results in 2021.
  • Out of range results can be due to unusual weather events or local incidents giving rise to a spike in contamination at a particular time. All out or range results are followed up by SFPA.
  • Annex B gives details and summary of out of range or elevated results reported to FSAI/IFA/BIM during the period Jan – Feb 2021.
    • In brief, there were 6 out of range results to date during 2022.
    • A comparison for the previous three years is also included. 

Biotoxin Sampling Frequency wef 10 March 2022

  • Weekly sampling frequency for Mussels on all coasts.
  • Fortnightly sampling frequency for Scallops from classified areas.
  • Bantry Bay - Weekly sampling frequency for all shellfish other than Mussels.
  • All other production areas - Monthly sampling frequency for all shellfish other than Mussels.

GMcC noted that the dataset files for the 2022 review of classifications has commenced and a review date is yet to be set.

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

PC presented the MI Toxicity Summary Report.

Management Cell requests since the precious meeting

1. Management cell was requested by the SFPA to place the Malahide Area to a closed status for Ensis siliqua on the HAB’s webpage. Issues with tracker iVMS units & a tender to replace the system was sent out in the first week of January. The existing supplier (Dyena) is closing their business. As an interim measure, units have been ordered from Dyena for vessels at Howth and Skerries. It is expected to have at least some units to deploy by end of January. New system incrementally from Feb. There is electronic (VMS) data on the activity of some vessels in the razor fleet in Dec 2021 around the Malahide area. This can be viewed on the Trax app. New management measures including a complete closure of the fishery in May and June in the North Irish Sea have been proposed and discussed with industry. This is currently with DAFM.

2. Management cell was requested by Declan MacGabhann SFPO for mussel & oyster samples from Carlingford Lough whose delivery was delayed by An Post. It was not raised as the mussel & oyster samples arrived into the MI in good condition for shucking and analysis.

Toxicity summary

  • From November 2021- March 2022, no samples tested above regulatory levels for the presence of Azapiracids.
  • From November 2021-March 2022, no samples tested above regulatory levels for the presence of DSP.
  • Nationally - All samples (except scallops) submitted for ASP analysis during - November 2021 – March 2022 were observed to be typically N.D, <LOD, or <LOQ, with the exception of South Chapel and Newtown where low levels of ASP have been observed in recent days, following a recent observation of elevated levels of Pseudo-nitzschia seriata in the southwest.
    • MI requested that Bantry is moved to a weekly sampling frequency for all species.
    • It is likely that an ASP event is on the way for this area.
  • Nationally all samples submitted for PSP analysis during November 2021 – March 2022 were observed to be typically N.D.
  • Nationally – All samples submitted for YTX & PTX analysis during November 2021 – March 2022 were observed to be typically for <LOD for YTX, and for PTX.

FOS queried whether any further analysis was being conducted on the Pseudo-nitzschia cells to identify the causative species. PC noted that due to staffing constraints, as was agreed between the MI, FSAI and SFPA in Q4 if 2021, the MI have changed their analysis to just look for toxins and HABs in phytoplankton composition, in order to minimise disruption and improve turnaround times. Therefore, molecular methods are not currently being conducted. FOS noted that the molecular methods are very helpful to the industry at this time of year as they give insight to producers as to the causative organisms and whether they are species of concern. DL queried when it would be likely that the molecular methods may be started again. PC advised that recruitment is planned for Q2 and it is hoped that following this they will be back to a full compliment of staff. PC advised that Dave Clarke will provide an update in due course.

CD noted that the low levels currently being picked up by the MI act as a good warning system to the industry. As ASP usually jumps quite quickly, it is worth being cautious around harvesting. FOS queried what level the ASP is currently at. CD noted that the regulatory limit is 20mg/kg and concentrations of 1-2mg/kg are currently being observed.

CD advised that as there are two bank holidays next week, Thursday 17th and Friday 18th, samples sent in by Tuesday will be tested and reported before the bank holiday weekend, however samples received on Wednesday will not be reported until the following Monday. DL queried if there was a cut-off time for receipt of samples on Tuesday. CD noted that samples arriving by post will have to be in the PO box by 7am on Tuesday, as is normal procedure. Any hand deliveries must be arranged in advance with the MI. CD assured the group that they will strive to test all samples that arrive on Tuesday. TM requested that an information note outlining this is sent to the industry. GMcC agreed he would do this. PM suggested that this is highlighted in particular to Castletownbere producers as they only have the option to post samples.

3. Microbiology and Virology

SK noted that the E.coli test lab contracts are being renewed following a tender process. The winning contracts have not yet been officially announced.

SK provided an update on Norovirus:

  • During the 2020/2021 winter period a significant decrease in NoV in the marine environment was observed. Approx. 50% of samples tested positive for NoV, which was a significant decrease from normal levels of 85-95% positivity.
  • During the 2021/2022 winter period so far, a 68% positivity rate has been observed. The mean concentration of NoV detected between October 2021 and February 2022 was 160cpg across the various production areas involved in the BIM study. Prior to the pandemic the average was 500cpg.
  • It appears that public health measures put in place to minimise the spread of the SARS-Cov-2 virus is still having an impact on NoV transmission within the community. However, as these measures have decreased significantly in recent weeks the Oyster Packers Group have been advised to remain vigilant for NoV and weekly testing will remain for March and April in order to keep an eye on the behaviour of NoV.

SK noted that if there are any producers outside of the Oyster Packers Group who would like to engage in NoV testing they should contact the MI. GMcC noted that the NoV testing has been very valuable to the SFPA in terms of dealing with food incidents and expanding testing would be favourable.

FOS queried whether the concentrations of NoV currently being observed are having an impact on the producers and their ability to sell their products. SK noted that this depends on the results in each individual area, and the appropriate mitigation measures are decided on a case-by-case basis. RD added that oyster producers are having difficulties accessing the Asian markets due to logistical challenges such as the increased cost of flights.

FOS raised concerns regarding the new organics legislation and the requirements that must be met in order for producers to retain their organic certification status. There are 3 options for producers to retain their organic status, one of which, and the easiest option for the industry to use, is to show that the production area is equivalent to an A classified area. FOS queried the suitability of the 3-year historic dataset currently used for Ireland’s Classification Monitoring programme, and suggested that real-time testing information could be used. A discussion followed this with the key points raised being:

  • The Organic Certification system and the Classification Monitoring system are two separate streams of work.
  • Any additional sampling for organic certification should not impact or be counted towards the classification dataset for a number of reasons, including the specific requirements for classification sampling.
  • Real time sampling data would not be as robust as the current 3-year data set for classification monitoring
  • The industry, BIM and IFA Aquaculture do not want to jeopardise the integrity of the National Monitoring Programme, however it is important that a solution is found that will allow producers to retain their organic certification, and this will need to be done by showing that areas are equivalent to A classified areas.

It was agreed that a separate meeting would be arranged to discuss this issue. DL noted that Aileen O’Sullivan previously did a lot of work on establishing equivalence between the EU and US systems and this could be revisited to advise on how best to proceed.

4. Biotoxin Code of Practice Review

DL thanked the group for their input and comments provided to date on the Biotoxin COP.

A further week will be given for comments and following this the draft version will be adopted as version 9 and published.

5. AOB

GMcC noted that he has received an update from the Howth Port office regarding the iVMS trackers for the razor clam boats. The boats in Skerries and Malahide will be prioritised for receiving these.

GMcC noted that the Bivalve Protocol for opening new bivalve areas is nearing the final stages of review.

GMcC gave an update on the amendments to Regulation (EC) No 852/2004 with regards to intermediary operators. Further questions have been put to the Commission by other member state, so awaiting responses on these. The port offices will be looking at different scenarios and how the amendments can be implemented.

TD noted that there is a joint BIM/IFA Aquaculture even planned for the 7th and 8th of April in Westport. Further information to follow.

CD noted that the MI have received funding for the PSPSafe project. This is a four-year project where with MI (Dave Clarke) as project lead with project partners UCD (Prof. Francis Butler) and GMIT (Dr. Luca Mirimin & Dr. Fiona Kavanagh). The project commenced on 1st Dec 2021 and runs to 30th November 2025.The project investigates the increasing abundance and distribution of Paralytic Shellfish Toxins in Ireland. A comprehensive sampling and analytical programme targeting these toxins in the water, sediment and shellfish, will be conducted in aquaculture production areas, to identify the causes, timing, environmental factors and mechanistic pathways of toxin occurrence. Novel molecular methods, predictive modelling and risk assessment tools will be developed. The outputs and deliverables of the project will allow for risk management strategies and predictive forecasting tools to be implemented as an early warning system for the aquaculture industry and regulatory competent authorities, thus providing increased assurances to consumer safety and supporting the integrity, quality and commercial reputation of Irish shellfish.

The next MSSC meeting will be held on Thursday 26th May via Microsoft Teams.