Senate passes bill expanding list of approved shellfish-testing labs

State Sen. Heather Somers, a Groton Democrat, and her Senate colleagues voted unanimously late Tuesday night to pass a bill expanding the network of approved laboratories for shellfish testing.

The 36-0 vote was recorded at 10:59 p.m.

“Connecticut’s shellfish industry is a growing, dynamic economic asset to the state,” Somers said Wednesday in a statement. “This industry alone provides Connecticut families with hundreds of jobs, with a great amount of room for development. Not only will this legislation help grow the shellfish industry, but it will also continue to protect the environment and guarantee safe products for our consumers.”

Senate Bill 287, which moves to the House for a vote, allows for shellfish harvested in Connecticut to be tested at any laboratory in New England that meets or exceeds federal standards for shellfish testing. The bill requires the commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture, by July 1, 2017, to publish a list on the department's website of all such laboratories. The laboratories do not have to be federally certified.

Under the bill, any listed laboratory may test shellfish harvested in Connecticut. A courier service may transport the shellfish samples for testing, and the agriculture commissioner must accept the test results as proof of compliance with any of the department's testing requirements.

The testing includes an analysis of bacteria levels and contaminants in the seawater and shellfish, a marine biotoxin analysis, and shellfish and fish pathology.

Currently, all seawater, clam and oyster meat samples from commercial and recreational shellfish beds must be tested at the state Bureau of Aquaculture laboratory in Milford.

“Due to the high volume of water testing that is required, coupled with staff size and the hours of the state laboratory, it has become essential to provide the industry with other testing options,” Somers said. “I think this (Senate vote) sends a clear message to the shellfish industry that we do value their contribution to our economy and we are willing to take steps to help with further expansion and growth.”

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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