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Sewage alerts to stop shellfish contamination

Water companies have agreed to notify shellfish producers when sewage works discharge diluted, untreated waste during heavy rainfall.

Norovirus, better known as the winter vomiting bug, occurs in sewage and if it finds its way into rivers, especially during the cool winter months, the producers say they must be told.

A new text alerts system will enable shellfish harvesters to manage their operations when water quality may be compromised.

After several months of discussion and collaborative working, Seafish has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with South West Water, Aquaprova, and Anglian Water.

Currently, water companies' coastal sewage treatment works discharge treated effluent into the sea. However, in some cases, extreme weather conditions can override the operations that are in place for handling live waste, resulting in a diluted form of this waste discharging into the sea.

The new text alert system will give warning of such an event, allowing shellfish harvesters to mitigate for it, minimising impact on the quality of the shellfish and supporting them in providing a safer seafood.

Mandy Pyke, aquaculture advisor at Seafish explains: "We hope to be able to provide real time information to harvesters, which will allow them to make active management decisions. The action they will take depends on the nature of each event but may include postponing harvesting, cancelling harvesting or moving operations to another area."

The system will work by the water companies sharing real time information on any spill events with shellfish harvesters via text message alerts.

"The signing of a MoU with South West Water and Anglian Water marks the end of several months of multi-party investigation of what is practicable, achievable and reasonable to benefit all parties involved. We now have a framework by which we can work in south west England and the East Anglian coastal region, and hope to make a real difference to the future operations of shellfish harvesters."

Testing of a new text alert system, developed by FireText, is underway at the moment with a view to having a live trial operational within the next few weeks. Seafish has begun engaging with water companies on a regional basis throughout the UK, with a view to rolling out this initiative nationwide.

Source: BBC News/Seafish
Photo: WordRidden

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