BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The Maryland Department of the Environment has issued an emergency order to close off a portion of the Potomac River near the Virginia shoreline to shellfish harvesting following a sewage overflow.

The department issued the order today. It applies to the Potomac River but does not extend to the Maryland shoreline, authorities said.

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Maryland officials are concerned about an area along the west side of the Potomac River and south of U.S. Route 301—at the mouth of the Upper Machodoc Creek in Virginia

They decided to close off the area to oyster and shellfish harvesting after Virginia health officials reached out to them about the sewage overflow affecting the creek.

Although the sewage overflow has been stopped, the area will remain closed for 21 days, which is the required wait period once a sewage spill has ceased, according to authorities. Shellfish harvesting could commence in the area as soon as Feb. 12.

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Shellfish get their food from microscopic organisms in the water. If the water is polluted, then the filtering process that shellfish use to consume their food can concentrate disease-causing organisms associated with raw sewage and other sources, such as animal waste.

Shellfish harvesting is not allowed on weekends and state government officials believe there are no oyster aquaculture leases in the affected area.

The Maryland Department of Environment is working in coordination with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Natural Resources Police and the Maryland Department of Health to mitigate any potential problems stemming from the sewage overflow, authorities said. The department is in contact with the Potomac River Fisheries Commission too.

Maryland officials are coordinating with Virginia health and environmental officials and expect to receive updated information on the impact of the overflow next week, according to authorities. They intend to remove the emergency closure once oysters can be safely harvested and public health protected.

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The emergency order does not apply to fishing and crabbing.

CBS Baltimore Staff