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Shellfish beds on the Niantic River are likely to remain closed for the next two weeks due to a backlog at the state lab that tests water and meat samples, Patrick Kelly, vice chairman and treasurer of the Waterford-East Lyme Shellfish Commission said Friday.
All five beds in Waterford and three of the four in East Lyme have been closed since heavy rains about 2 1/2 weeks ago. The only bed open is in Niantic Bay, where there are few shellfish and the water is too deep for most shellfishermen, Kelly said.
The prolonged closure is a big disappointment for many people, he said.
"We have people coming from other states or upstate who are here taking their vacations, and they like to go clamming," he said. "We've been getting a lot of calls from people asking why the beds are still closed."
Water samples tested a week after the heavy rain passed public health tests, Kelly said, but meat samples had elevated levels of coliform bacteria both a week after the rain and this week. The state Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Aquaculture, which does the testing, is currently backlogged testing samples from Fairfield County for vibrio, a bacteria that contaminates shellfish. It has told the commission it will not be able to retest meat samples from the Niantic River for about two weeks, Kelly said.
"Their resources at the lab can't cope with an onslaught of samples," he said.
He said he has asked the aquaculture bureau whether there are other certified labs the commission could use, but has not yet received a response. The bureau could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
All shellfish beds in Groton except the one on Palmer Cove are also currently closed.
Stephen Mansfield, deputy director at Ledge Light Health District, said he is not aware of any other labs certified to conduct testing, and deferred Kelly's questions to the aquaculture bureau. Ledge Light issues notices of shellfish bed closures in the five towns where it provides public health services — East Lyme, Waterford, New London, Groton and Ledyard. It does not, however, do water or meat sample tests for shellfish beds.