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Shellfish waters directive

The  EC Shellfish Waters Directive protects or improves 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The directive will be repealed in 2013 by the EC Water Framework Directive, which will provide at least the same level of protection to shellfish waters (which the WFD classifies as protected areas).

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.

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.  The UK is committed to maintain a broad match between designated shellfish waters and shellfish harvesting areas (see below) 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 has remained 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.

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.

The Schedule replaces the one that was issued in March 2011 and shows corrected coordinates for four shellfish waters: Walton Backwaters, Osea Island, Camel Estuary and Dee (East).

2011 Notice (PDF 10 KB) and Amended Schedule (PDF 20 KB). An Annex to the Schedule  highlights the amended coordinates.

A summary of the responses (PDF 60 KB) to the review is also available.

Shellfish intended for human consumption

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.


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

Page last modified: 23 November 2011