SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

June 21, 2014

State lifts many red tide closures

IPSWICH — The state Division of Marine Fisheries partially lifted the widespread local red tide closure of shellfish harvesting areas on Thursday and a state fisheries official said Friday that a complete reopening of all areas for all shellfish species is “about a week away.”

DMF, which instituted the closure on June 4 for shellfish harvesting areas stretching from Newbury to Gloucester, reopened harvesting areas in Ipswich, Essex and Gloucester for razor clams, soft-shell clams and sea scallop adductor muscles, which is the white scallop meat most people consume.

The agency also reopened harvesting areas along Plum Island Sound for those same species.

Mike Hickey, chief biologist for DMF’s shellfish program, said the toxicity levels for all affected shellfish species continues to drop, as well, with no evidence of new or ongoing red-tide blooms.

“If they continue to decline and we can demonstrate there are no ongoing blooms, we’re about a week away, if not less, from a total reopening,” Hickey said.

The closing on June 4 was the first widespread, local closure since 2011 because of the elevated levels of marine biotoxin commonly known as red tide. The colorful description refers to the blooms in the water of single-cell microscopic algae which contain both red pigments and harmful neurotoxins.

In the Northeast, the blooms are caused by the Alexandrium fundyense phytoplankton organisms that contain neurotoxins. The shellfish feed on the plankton, storing the neurotoxins in their digestive tract and viscera, sometimes accumulating them to levels that are dangerous and possibly lethal if consumed.

The June 4 closure caused local seafood restaurants to look outside the area for seafood favorites such as mussels and the clams commonly used for fried clams. In some cases, some restaurants just took the items off the menu.

At lunchtime Friday, the sign at the counter at Essex Seafood said it all: “No Steamers.”

Some disappointed patrons asked when the soft-shell favorites might be available again and those that bothered to inquire received good news: the clammers were back digging for soft-shell clams and the little clam shack off Eastern Avenue expected to have steamers that very afternoon.

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@salemnews.com.

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