NEWPORT NEWS (AP) -- A portion of the James River and its tributaries in the Newport News area has been declared off-limits to shellfish harvesting and the ban is expected to last for three weeks.

The Virginia Department of Health announced the closure on Monday because of flooding and contamination from sewage spills caused by heavy rain over the weekend.

The closure involves bivalve mollusks such as oysters and clams but not crabs or fin fish.

State health officials say shellfish taken from the closed areas are unfit for consumption and could cause gastrointestinal illnesses if eaten.

Depending on results of a water sample taken after Labor Day, the ban could be lifted before the 15th, officials told 13News.

Watermen were out early Tuesday getting shellfish from areas of the James not included in the ban.

They came in at the boat landing in Menchville with baskets full of oysters taken from the Isle of Wight County area of the James, which is not in the banned area.

'When we see rain like this weekend, we come to expect some kind of shellfish ban, sometimes it is only a few days and other times it could be a week or more,' said Richard Green.

He added the ban, even if it's a short-lived on, can hurt some of those who make a living on the water.

Some watermen who harvest oysters in the banned area will find other boats to get on this week, but there aren't always enough boats to take all those guys so some of them won't have a job. So for those guys a ban like this affects them a lot.'

The off-limits area is on the Newport News side of the James from the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge Tunnel to Mulberry Point.

Green and others say there's plenty of oysters to be had so the ban shouldn't impact prices.

Jon Dickerson, the Va. Dept. of Health Norfolk Field Director for shellfish sanitation said, 'We know from experience that shellfish do purge bacteria from their system so we're pretty confident by that 3 week window, we'll be dealing with safe product.'

AP-WF-08-27-12 2010GMT

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