Maine Family Sickened by Red Tide Poisoning


SeafoodSource staff

Published on
July 7, 2008

Three members of a family from the Cutler, Maine, area were hospitalized over the weekend with red tide poisoning after consuming mussels from an area closed to shellfish harvesting due to high concentrations of poisonous algal blooms.

The Bangor Daily News reported yesterday that the family - two adults and one adolescent - was admitted Saturday to Down East Community Hospital in Machias and have since been released. Their names were not released. It is the second documented case of red tide poisoning in Maine in less than a year after a nearly three-decade absence.

According to the Maine Department of Marine Resources, the family harvested mussels from mooring lines on an abandoned fish pen on the eastern side of Cutler Harbor, near the Canadian border.

"They were aware that red tide was around, and in fact the entire Cutler Harbor area has been closed for three weeks now, but they knew that some commercial clammers were digging up in a nearby bay, and they felt that since this was almost open ocean with a large tidal flush, not a flat, that the mussels must be safe," says Darcie Couture, director of biotoxin monitoring for DMR.

"I am deeply concerned that people do not seem to be putting enough faith in our red tide monitoring program, and trusting the closure lines that we have in place. I am also concerned about the misconceptions that some people may have about where red tide comes from, and which areas are 'safe.'"

The red tide toxin doesn't harm shellfish, but consuming mussels or clams affected by red tide can cause gastrointestinal illness and even death in humans.

"Everyone needs to know that shellfish are still very safe to eat," Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told the newspaper. "The program for testing [red tide] is extremely effective. But, people need to remember that if you're buying, buy from a licensed dealer, and if your going to harvest yourself, check the closures regularly."

Health officials in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, warned consumers this weekend to buy shellfish only from reputable dealers after shellfish poisoning sickened eight people. The shellfish were purchased from a licensed clam digger.

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