You are here:

Shellfish waters directive

On this page:

The aim of the EC Shellfish Waters Directive is to protect or improve shellfish waters in order to support shellfish life and growth, therefore contributing to the high quality of shellfish products directly edible by man. It sets physical, chemical and microbiological water quality requirements that designated shellfish waters must either comply with (‘mandatory’ standards) or endeavour to meet (‘guideline’ standards).

The Directive is designed to protect the aquatic habitat of bivalve and gastropod molluscs, including oysters, mussels, cockles, scallops and clams. It does not cover shellfish crustaceans such as crabs, crayfish and lobsters.

The original Shellfish Waters Directive (79/923/EC), adopted on 30 October 1979, was repealed by the codified Shellfish Waters Directive (2006/113/EC), adopted on 12 December 2006.  Codification is a routine procedure that consolidates an existing Directive, with any amendments made since its introduction, into a single, more accessible document.  The codified Directive maintains all existing measures which provide for the monitoring and assessment of shellfish waters and the setting of the water quality standards they are required to achieve.  Any reference to the repealed Directive should be construed as referring to the new one.

Defra is committed to improving water quality to a level where all designated shellfish waters can support at least ‘class B’ production areas (see Related Legislation). This is regarded as an achievable interim target towards meeting the guideline faecal coliform standard for shellfish flesh quality under the Shellfish Waters Directive, providing significant environmental benefits as well as benefits to the shellfish industry.

The Directive will be repealed in 2013 by the EC Water Framework Directive. When this occurs, the Water Framework Directive must provide at least the same level of protection to shellfish waters (which the WFD classifies as protected areas) as the Shellfish Waters Directive does.


The original Shellfish Waters Directive (79/923/EEC) was transposed into UK legislation through Regulations and Directions in 1997.

Administration and implementation of the Directive

The Shellfish Waters Directive is administered in England by Defra and in the rest of the UK by the relevant Devolved Administration.  Shellfish water enquiries in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should be directed to the Scottish Government (, Welsh Assembly Government ( and Department of Environment Northern Ireland ( respectively.The Directive is implemented in the UK by the following regulatory authorities:

Contact details for queries relating to implementation of the Directive can be found at the above websites.

Number of designated shellfish waters in the UK

There are 98 designated shellfish waters in England, 108 in Scotland, 26 in Wales and 10 in Northern Ireland, a total of 242 shellfish waters in the UK. Shellfish waters are formally designated under the Shellfish Waters Directive through the issue of a Notice and Schedule.

In England, the Notice and Schedule are issued by Defra and place an obligation on the Environment Agency to ensure that designated waters meet the requirements of the Directive.

These will shortly be replaced by a new Notice and Schedule to include the outcomes of the 2010 review of shellfish waters.

The UK is committed to maintaining a broad match between designated shellfish waters and shellfish harvesting areas and Defra is responsible for meeting this commitment in England.  During 2010 we carried out a review of shellfish water designations.  As a result, we have designated six new shellfish waters; 10 shellfish waters have been extended; there have been two mergers, each of two existing shellfish waters; and four shellfish waters have been dedesignated.  The total number of designated shellfish waters remains unchanged.

The new shellfish waters are: Wells Harbour; Thornham Harbour; Burnham Overy Creek; Morecambe Bay Leven; Outer Exe; Ravenglass.

The waters that have been extended are: Colne; Walney South; Roosebeck; Morecambe Bay East; Silloth; Salcombe; Camel Estuary; Lynher; Exe Estuary; Helford River.

The waters that have been merged are: Newtown Bank and Newtown Harbour; Sowley and Lymington.

The former shellfish waters that have been dedesignated are: Humber; Blyth; Tamar; Weymouth Bay.

A summary of the responses to the consultation is available, together with copies of the review letter and list of proposed changes:

The Shellfish Waters Directive sets environmental standards for the quality of the waters where shellfish live in order to promote healthy shellfish growth. The quality of commercially harvested shellfish intended for human consumption must comply with the EU Food Hygiene Regulations (852 / 853 / 854), which took effect on 1 January 2006.

These regulations lay down specific hygiene rules for food of animal origin, including shellfish. They cover live bivalve molluscs (mussels, clams, oysters etc), echinoderms, tunicates and marine gastropods, but not other species, such as crabs and shrimp. The Food Standards Agency is responsible for implementing the new regulations, which are enacted by The Food Hygiene (England) Regulations 2006.

The regulations set microbiological standards for the flesh quality of shellfish (as listed above) from designated production areas, which are classified as either A, B or C. These standards are set to ensure that shellfish are placed on the market fit for human consumption.

Further information about the classification of shellfish harvesting areas can be found on the Food Standards Agency website.

Harvested shellfish were previously classified under the Shellfish Hygiene Directive (Council Directive 91/492/EEC of 15 July 1991 laying down the health conditions for the production and the placing on the market of live bivalve molluscs). This Directive was repealed in January 2006.

Further information

Contact the Defra helpline on 08459 33 55 77

Further information is available on our Help page about downloading or reading Adobe Acrobat PDF documents.

Page last modified: 4 February 2011
Page published: 17 September 2003