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Oyster season at end
Frank Owens wheeled a hand cart out of the back room of City Market on Gloucester Street in Brunswick carrying what he called a "fat sack" of oysters in a burlap bag and opened it.

Inside were hundreds of chunky shells, each containing a shellfish revered nearly everywhere for its salty seafood flavor.

These particular oysters came from Apalachicola Bay in Florida because the local supply of quality oysters dwindles this time of year.

As water temperatures rise with the approach of summer, oysters become less desirable because chances increase they could contain higher concentrations of vibrio parahaemolyticus, a naturally occurring bacteria in filter-feeding shellfish that can cause some nasty symptoms when ingested.

That is why the Georgia Department of Natural Resources will close state waters to oyster harvesting this weekend. It will close at 6 a.m. Saturday and remain closed until Sept. 30.

The closure comes as no surprise to Owens, who said the number of customers seeking oysters in the spring and summer drop off significantly.

"It's really the off season no matter where you are," Owens said, adding that it has been around three weeks since he has sold any locally harvested oysters.

"They were really good this year, though."

Oysters harvested in Coastal Georgia waters are usually in demand during the fall and winter months because of high levels of salinity. It's also the time of year when bacteria is present in lower concentrations, according to Dominic Guadagnoli, shellfish fishery manager for the Coastal Resources Division of the DNR.

Oysters harvested from the area around the Sapelo Sound in McIntosh County are often the most sought after because the estuary there tends to have the highest salinity in the region, giving the oysters their signature salty taste, Guadagnoli said.

When the summer months push water temperatures above 81 degrees, bacteria concentrations soar, increasing the chance that under-cooked oysters will lead to vomiting, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, fever and chills.

"We expect this closure to have little adverse impact on recreational and commercial oyster harvesters since most individuals refrain from eating freshly harvested oysters during the summer months when the combination of spawning and warm weather makes oysters less desirable as seafood," Guadagnoli said.

When the season is open in the fall and winter, anyone with a fishing license can harvest oysters recreationally at designated public harvest areas like Joiner Creek in Glynn County.

* Reporter Michael Hall writes about public safety, environment and other local topics. Contact him at mhall@thebrunswicknews.com, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 320.



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