Harvests halted by red tide

By Stewart Bishop
Globe Correspondent / May 23, 2009
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The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries has ordered a halt to all harvesting of blue mussels, surf clams, carnivorous snails, and whole sea scallops from Boston to the New Hampshire border because of an outbreak of red tide.

On Cape Ann, the ban was more extensive, including all bivalve shellfish, the division said yesterday.

Red tide is a naturallyoccurring toxic algal bloom noted for its reddish-brown color. Consuming shellfish that have been exposed to red tide can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning in humans, which is potentially fatal.

Shellfisherman Jack Montoni, 56, of Gloucester said the financial implications for him were unfortunate, but the worst part is the uncertainty of the situation.

"The toughest part is not knowing the extent of it," Montoni said. "Because it's an all-or-nothing kind of thing." Montoni, who has been a shellfisherman for four years, said local authorities do a good job of keeping shellfishermen informed.

David Sargent, shellfish constable in Gloucester, said there is no danger of contamination in any shellfish presently being sold, assuring consumers that Thursday's catch is perfectly safe.

"This is monitored very closely. The public should not be concerned about any shellfish products currently on store shelves," he said. "I encourage everyone to enjoy shellfish. It's a very healthy food."

Catherine Williams, spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said it is difficult to know how long the bloom will last, but state officials are surveying algae levels frequently.

Last year, an explosion of red tide closed beds all along the New England coast, crippling the local shellfish industry and prompting then-US Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez to declare a commercial fishery failure in November.