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SFPA Publishes Annual Classification List of Ireland’s Shellfish Production Areas

SFPA Publishes Annual Classification List of Ireland’s Shellfish Production Areas

The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) has published the annual classification list** for commercial shellfish (bivalve mollusc) production areas across Ireland, assessing 134 classifications in 60 production areas against strict safety requirements for human consumption.

During this year’s 2023 annual review of classifications, five production areas received ‘upgrades’ to their classifications, and fifteen production areas received ‘downgrades’. The breakdown of these downgraded areas was as follows: six production areas changed from an A classification to Seasonal A classification; one production area moved from a Seasonal A to a B classification and eight production areas decreased in seasonality (i.e., shortening in seasonal length). One production area was declared as dormant due to inactivity over the last twelve months and limited monitoring data is available.

Live shellfish can only be harvested from production areas which meet strict classification requirements for human consumption, as set out under European and Irish Food laws. The SFPA, in collaboration with the shellfish industry, conducts regular shellfish sampling in all production areas, monitoring the levels of bacterial contamination of shellfish to determine the risk and classification status.  Each production area is designated a rating that determines the conditions, if any, which need to be observed before shellfish can be sold for human consumption (see notes for more information).

Ireland produced an estimated 29,000 tonnes of shellfish in 2022 - including mussels (both rope and bottom culture), oysters, clams, cockles, and scallops - from classified production areas annually, and an additional 2,200 tonnes of scallops are landed from offshore sites. The Irish aquaculture farmed shellfish sector is worth an estimated €71 million annually (up 10% on last year’s figures) which was reported in the BIM report on The Business of Seafood 2022. Around 90% of shellfish produced in Ireland is exported, principally to European and Asian markets, and Ireland is the second largest producer of oysters in Europe after France. *

Paschal Hayes, Executive Chairperson of the SFPA said that Ireland’s shellfish monitoring programme was important for both consumers and commercial producers.

“One of the principal remits of the SFPA is to ensure that Irish and international consumers can be assured of the quality and safety of fish and seafood harvested here.

Shellfish production is an important industry in many coastal communities around Ireland and it is essential that the highest standards of food safety are maintained at all times. The SFPA works in collaboration with industry and other state agencies to ensure that production areas are of the highest possible standard and meet rigorous assessment criteria to ensure that the safety and quality of the shellfish placed on the market is not compromised in any manner.

This work is an important pillar in both preserving and further enhancing Ireland’s global reputation for quality, safe and delicious seafood. It is incumbent upon all working in the industry to remain vigilant to any risks which have the potential to impact our seafood production areas and that we adopt a collective approach throughout with a focus on quality and sustainable seafood.”

Sinéad Keaveney, Team Leader, Shellfish Microbiology, Marine Institute said: “The publication of the classification list is the annual culmination of the ongoing partnership between the Marine Institute and the SFPA in the microbiological monitoring of shellfish production areas in Ireland. As the National Reference Laboratory for monitoring E. coli contamination in bivalve shellfish, the Marine Institute oversees the national E. coli testing programme ensuring high quality test results produced by the laboratories. This contributes significantly to the assessment of the risk of microbiological contamination in shellfish production areas and the overall classification status of individual production areas.”



  • *Bord Iascaigh Mhara, The Business of Seafood Report 2022


The Molluscan Shellfish Safety Programme, which included a wide range of stakeholders in Ireland’s LBM Industry, allows for a balanced and robust shellfish monitoring programme in Ireland. A key component is the National Microbiological Monitoring and Classification Programme which is a requirement of European food law. In Ireland, the SFPA is the Competent Authority for the classification of shellfish areas as part of its statutory remit promoting compliance with sea-fisheries legislation and ensuring seafood safety.

The SFPA carries out an annual review of all shellfish classifications utilising the previous three-year dataset of microbiological results for classifications. Escherichia coli (E.coli) is used as a proxy or faecal indicator; E.coli levels in shellfish samples are used to determine the classification status of production sites and determines the required harvesting protocols. During the period January 2020 to January 2023, approximately 4,802 microbiological E.coli samples were taken by the SFPA and reviewed.

In addition to the 2023/24 draft review of classified bivalve mollusc production areas in Ireland, a complete list of the E.coli results for the review period were forwarded to the Implementation Team involving the SFPA, Food Safety Authority of Ireland, Marine Institute, Bord Iascaigh Mhara, IFA Aquaculture, and Industry. This gives the opportunity for industry to submit cases to potentially waive E.coli result which can clearly be shown to be directly caused by exceptional or once off events. These matters are raised at the annual Implementation meeting. The criteria are outlined and detailed in the Code of Practice for the classification of production areas on the SFPA website.

Table 1. Shellfish Classification based on E. coli monitoring


Standard per 100g of LBM flesh and intravalvular fluid

Treatment required


80% of samples ≤ 230 E. coli/100g; all samples must be less than 700 E. coli/100g)

None - molluscs can be harvested for direct human consumption


LBMs must not exceed the limits of a five-tube, three dilution Most Probable Number (MPN) test of 4,600 E. coli per 100 g of flesh and intravalvular liquid.2

Purification, relaying in class A area or cooking by an approved method


LBMs must not exceed the limits of a five-tube, three dilution MPN test of 46,000 E. coli per 100 g of flesh and intravalvular liquid.

Relaying for a long period or cooking by an approved method


>46,000 E. coli per 100g of flesh and intravalvular fluid3

Harvesting not permitted

Notes:       1 Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/627 Title V Art 53, Regulation (EC) No 853/2004, to Regulation (EC) 2073/2005.

2 Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/627 Title V Art 54, the competent authority may continue to classify as being of Class B areas for which the relevant limits of 4,600 E. coli per 100g are not exceeded in 90% of samples.

3This level is by default as it is above the highest limit set in legislation.

 About the SFPA

The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) is the independent statutory body responsible for the regulation of the sea-fisheries and the sea-food production sectors. It promotes compliance with the EU Common Fisheries Policy, sea-fisheries law and food safety law relating to fish and fish products, verifies compliance and, where necessary, enforces it.  Its mandate covers all fishing vessels operating within Ireland’s 200-mile limit, over 2,000 Irish registered fishing vessels wherever they operate, and all seafood produced in Ireland’s seafood processing companies. The SFPA operates through a network of regional port offices situated at Ireland’s main fishery harbours.  

The Marine Institute is the state agency responsible for marine research, technology development and innovation in Ireland. It provides government, public agencies and the maritime industry with a range of scientific, advisory and economic development services that inform policy-making, regulation and the sustainable management and growth of Ireland's marine resources.