Water recreation and eating fresh seafood are some of the great joys of living on the coast; however, there is reason for caution when using many areas of the Inland Bays.

Pathogens—illness causing bacteria, viruses, and parasites—can enter water from many sources, including waste from wildlife, humans, and domestic animals. Some bacteria that occur naturally in the Bays also can be pathogenic. Exposure to these pathogens through water contact may cause acute gastrointestinal illness or infect open wounds. People may also be exposed to pathogens by eating contaminated shellfish.

The open waters of the Inland Bays are generally safe for recreational contact such as swimming. However more poorly flushed tributaries and canals regularly fail to meet safe swimming standards.

Currently 61% of the Inland Bays are approved for shellfishing year- round— down 1% since the previous report. An additional 3.6% of Bay waters were moved from seasonally-approved to prohibited status.

Chemical contaminants from a variety of industrial, urban, and agricultural sources can also enter surface waters, where they accumulate in fish. Mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s) have been identified as ‘contaminants of concern’ present in migratory Bluefish and Striped Bass caught in the Inland Bays, though the chemicals likely are picked up elsewhere. Both species are currently under consumption advisories.

Looking Ahead

Concentrations of PCBs and mercury in fish are expected to decrease slowly but it may be decades before consumption advisories are lifted.

Removal of the Rehoboth Beach Wastewater Treatment Plant discharge scheduled for 2018 may allow reopening of some waters closed to shellfishing near the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal.

Read more about Human Health Risks (PDF) »


Above Photo Credit: “Oysters” by Jeffrey Vary/CC BY 2.0

Posted Under: 2016 SotB