The red tide could last for weeks in Scituate, officials say, shutting down clam beds for the remainder of the season.
Although there is no commercial clamming in Scituate, the tide beds will be closed to recreational harvesting of soft shells, surf clams, mussels, and snails, due to the increase in the naturally forming algae, which can be harmful and even fatal to humans if eaten.
Although the situation is serious, residents don’t need to be overly concerned, said Rick Murray, a Scituate selectmen and oceanography professor at Boston University.
“They’ve been closed. It happens every so often, and people need to take it seriously so they don’t get sick,'' Murray said. "But they also last for a finite period of time, so at some point it will be lifted. Maybe a week, maybe three weeks…but you just have to reassure people it’s not permanent, and it's definitely for their own good.”
Murray attributed the increase in algae to the large amounts of recent rain.
According to the professor, the nutrients in the run-off sometimes promote algae growth, which may have lead to the dramatic increase seen in Scituate, Marshfield, and in many areas of the North Shore.
A red tide occurred last year in Scituate as well, Harbormaster Mark Patterson said.
“It lasted quite a while last year. I think like more than a month. A good part of the summer,” he said. “But our season ends in [early] June anyway, so we’ll only lose a couple of weeks, if that.”
To mitigate problems with the clams, the town will truck approximately 1,000 contaminated clams into cleaner waters on June 15.
Called a quahog relay, the clams naturally flush the bacteria and contaminates out of themselves, making them safe to eat by the next year.
In the meantime, the signs posted around the mudflats should be enough to deter people from digging for them, said Joe Strazdes, the shellfish warden for the town of Scituate.
“This will curtail [harvesting] a week early. Just when the weather got nice, unfortunately. But it’s part of a regular cycle,” he said. “The red tides have been coming in and out for a long time. You just grin and bear it.”
The state will continue to monitor the water for bacteria levels and will notify the town when the flats are okay, Patterson said.
In other ways, however, the town should feel lucky. For the first time in decades, the mudflats in South River were open for clamming -- at least for a while -- due to improved water quality.
“It’s only been open for a few weeks, but at least we got them open,” Patterson said. “And hopefully next year, when the season starts, we’ll be able to open it up again.”
Although residents shouldn’t be digging for their own clams, Murray said shellfish in restaurants are fine to eat.
“I just had clam chowder for lunch, and I’m not worried about it at all!” Murray said. “Any food that makes it to our table is absolutely fine to eat, as long as people obey the rules.”