Emergency Closure Frequently Asked Questions

Why is an emergency closure issued?

  • When there are sudden factors that could affect the safety of individuals consuming molluscan shellfish outside of, or beyond the scope of, routine monitoring by Division of Shellfish Safety staff.  These factors could be virus and bacteria laden sewage released to shellfish waters, harmful algal blooms, or other deleterious substances.


What standards are followed when you issue an Emergency Shellfish Closure?

  • Virginia is a participatory member of the National Shellfish Sanitation Program (NSSP) and adopts the standards outlined in the document NSSP Guide for the Control of Molluscan Shellfish, commonly called the Model Ordinance.  These standards identify when an emergency closure should be issued and what criteria must occur in order to reopen.  For more information click here to be redirected to the Model Ordinance: 2019 Revision and scroll down to page 49 in the document (pdf page 60).
  • Click here for a step-by-step flow chart review of the tasks involved with the issuance of an emergency closure and subsequent reopening.


When will an emergency closure be rescinded (waters reopened) and what water criteria are used to rescind?

  • An emergency closure will automatically end at the conclusion of the closure effective date range.
  • In the instance of a known sewage release, waters are closed by emergency action for 21 days and cannot be reopened early unless oyster meat samples (coliphage testing), obtained seven days following the end of a sewage release, do not exceed 50 MSC per 100 grams.
  • In the instance of floodwaters causing general increases in bacteria from runoff, no sampling can be obtained for seven days and any early reopening cannot occur without two favorable water quality samples.


Is it safe to swim or eat fish or crabs in waters encompassed by an emergency closure?

  • Molluscan shellfish are filter feeders and by their nature require much cleaner water quality.  An emergency closure does not automatically imply it is unsafe to swim or eat finfish or crabs.  Any closure to recreational waters or fishing, etc. would be identified by a separate order.


Hampton Roads Closureclick here for printable fact sheet