Maine Mulls Cutting Red Tide Monitors
Maine's Department of Marine Resources may have to slash funding for the state's red tide monitoring program to comply with mandatory budget cuts, a move shellfish harvesters say could put them out of business.
DMR Commissioner George LaPointe says a 10 percent budget cut, or $1 million, ordered by Gov. John Baldacci would require radical marine patrol cuts or scrapping the entire shellfish inspection program.
"What good choice do we have?" LaPointe told WCSH-TV in Portland. "The two big pots of money are in marine patrol and in the public health division. And either one of those would be extreme."
LaPointe said he prefers to eliminate three red tide monitoring staffers and three shellfish inspectors, along with three employees in marine patrol. LaPointe acknowledged that Maine's $50 million shellfish industry would effectively be shut down, but that deep cuts in marine patrol would hurt all fisheries.
As an alternative, LaPointe proposed a 20 percent fee increase for all commercial fishing licenses, which would generate enough funds to retain all programs.
Red tide is caused by naturally occurring algal blooms that produce a toxin absorbed by shellfish as they feed. While harmless to bivalves like clams, mussels and oysters, high levels of red tide toxins can cause people who eat them to become sick or even die.
Periodic red tide outbreaks have forced the closure of parts of the Maine coast to shellfish harvesting in recent years, but officials credit the monitoring program with allowing areas that have escaped contamination to stay in business.