The Virginia Department of Health, Division of Shellfish Safety (DSS) determines if waters should be open or closed for the harvesting of shellfish. DSS makes these determinations by complying with regulations within the FDA’s National Shellfish Sanitation Program (NSSP). NSSP is intended to promote the safe harvesting and handling of shellfish intended for human consumption. NSSP’s water classifications, which are used by DSS, are as follows: approved, conditionally approved, restricted, conditionally restricted, and prohibited. For a link to additional information on these classifications please click here.

DSS determines which classification to use for certain bodies of water by conducting shoreline surveys and seawater sampling. The shoreline surveys are meant to find potential land-based sources of pollution. The seawater samples are used to determine the type and concentration of pollutants within the water. Shellfish harvesting waters in Virginia are splintered into “Growing Areas” by DSS. Seawater samples are analyzed on a monthly basis while formal evaluations of shellfish growing areas are conducted annually to determine if new areas can be opened to shellfish harvesting.

DSS provides maps and listings of current classifications. To see if an area is currently open to shellfish harvesting please click here.


If you plan to handle shellfish in Virginia, you will likely have to apply for and receive a Certificate of Inspection. All shellfish harvesters who sell to anyone other than a certified shellfish dealer must receive an inspection. Additionally, anyone that buys shellfish from Virginia and processes them in anyway, either by shucking, repacking, retagging, relabeling, or reshipping, must receive a Certificate of Inspection.

The Certificate of Inspection application is approved by DSS. The forms and application materials are provided by the State Health Department and can be found here. A Certificate of Inspection is valid for one year and must be renewed annually. In addition, periodic inspections will be conducted by Shellfish Specialists from DSS to ensure compliance and sanitary conditions.

Additionally, in compliance with FDA regulations, all shellfish processors are required to have a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan. The HACCP plan must be completed by someone trained in Seafood HACCP. In Virginia, the training can be completed at Virginia Tech or online. However, the online course still requires attendance of the final training day at Virginia Tech.

If you plan on new construction or major modification of existing structures involved in the processing of shellfish, you will need to contact the DSS field office covering the area of the proposed facility. DSS will assign you a Shellfish Specialist to provide you with application materials and ensure your plans are in compliance with current regulations. It’s important to keep in mind that you will likely be subject to additional regulation, such as local zoning ordinances or other agency regulations depending on the scope of the proposed facility. 

If you have questions about the application process or are considering applying for a Certificate of Inspection you can contact the nearest DSS field office. For a list of the DSS field offices follow the link above or click here.

HACCP Fact Sheets

HAACP Information and Training Requirements for Virginia's Shellfish Industry (PDF)
The 7 Principles of HACCP as Appplied to the Shellfish Industry (PDF)
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