To assure the safety of shellfish grown in Rhode Island by testing shellfish, shellfish harvesting areas and holding facilities for microbiological and chemical contaminants.
What we do
Analyze water samples collected from shellfish growing areas of the Narragansett Bay and the state’s salt ponds weekly for fecal contamination.
Report laboratory results to the DEM shellfish program for decisions made to close shellfish harvesting areas based on high fecal coliform counts or re-open the shell fishing areas when it is safe to resume shellfish harvesting again.
Identify and quantify microbiological and chemical food contaminants following strict international quality standards.
Participate in the Food Emergency Response Network (FERN), a network of qualified laboratories that respond to food contamination threats to the national food supplies.
The Science Behind Shellfish Safety
One of two FDA approved shellfish laboratories on the east coast approved to measure the concentration of domoic acid, a biotoxin, produced by the harmful plankton Pseudo nitzschia. In 2016 and 2017 blooms of this harmful plankton occurred in Narragansett Bay and southern New England coastal waters closing shellfish harvesting area. This testing capability is maintained to protect public health and safety if harmful blooms occur and to determine when when they dissipate so shellfish harvesting can resume safely.
A new more sensitive test method was implemented for testing domoic acid. This method will be employed to protect public health and safeguard the shellfish industry and the state’s shellfish reputation by determining earlier when harmful plankton are producing domoic acid.
The shellfish laboratory is a member of the Rhode Island Shellfish Initiative, a partnership of government, business, academia, and community to strengthen our state’s shellfish management practices and promote growth and innovation within our local seafood industry.