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Down East Shellfishing Areas Closed For Third Straight Year

Oregon State University
Flickr/Creative Commons

For the third year in a row a potentially toxic algae is blooming Down East and forcing closures of shellfishing areas.

Never seen in Maine before 2016, some varieties of Pseudo-nitzschia can produce a biotoxin that builds up in clams, mussels and other shellfish, causing what’s called amnesic shellfish poisoning. Reactions in humans can range from cramps to short-term memory loss and even death.

Last year the state started closing shellfishing areas as soon as toxins show up in regular sampling. And the “precautionary closure” strategy is working, says Kohl Kanwit, public health director for the Department of Marine Resources.

“The toxin increases in shellfish more quickly than we can get out to resample and get back the results. So we decided that once we see toxin at any level in the shellfish that we would make precautionary closures and then reopen, if we can, on the next sample, and that avoids a recall,” she says.

Right now, Kanwit says, toxin levels are rising in shellfish from Mount Desert Island east, and hundreds of shellfish operations are affected. It could be weeks, she says, before they can be reopened.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.