Oysters can make for a delicious meal, but they can also carry harmful bacteria. Vibrio parahaemolyticus (Vp.) is a bacteria found in oysters that increases health risks. This bacteria can cause stomach pain or even be lethal. It is most common during warm summer months, when the bacteria can multiply. This high-risk timeframe in Massachusetts is from May to October.
The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (MA DMF) works with Public Health to develop a Vp. Control Plan. The Vibrio Control Plan tracks the conditions of oyster harvests in Massachusetts. It also limits the post-harvest growth of Vp. in oysters. MA DMF regulates private oyster aquaculture growers, while Public Health regulates the dealers that buy from private oyster growers.
While the Vibrio Control Plan limits the post-commercial harvest growth of Vp. in oysters sold on the wholesale market, it is very difficult to impose similar restrictions to the recreational harvest of oysters. For this reason, the Town of Falmouth does not have an oyster fishery during the high-risk Vp. timeframe. The recreational oyster season in Falmouth varies year to year based on sufficient water quality parameters, with the opening of the season expected in mid-October to early November and ending in mid-March.