Toxic algae hits Maine shellfish, forcing recalls and fishery closure

Published on
October 7, 2016

A toxic algae outbreak is affecting Maine’s shellfish industry, as the U.S. state closed one-third of its coastline for harvesting and ordered wide-scale recalls.

Last week, Maine’s Department of Marine Resources issued a recall of mussels, clams and quahogs caught in a long stretch of coastline from Stonington to the Canadian border after finding domoic acid levels of up to 100 parts per million, five times the level deemed safe for human consumption, the Portland Press Herald reported.

Domoic acid is a biotoxin that, if consumed, can cause Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning, or ASP. In mild cases, ASP causes vomiting, nausea and diarrhea and in more severe instances, victims can suffer loss of short-term memory, seizures, coma and death.

“It’s a serious issue, it requires attention, Sandra Shumway, a shellfish expert at the University of Connecticut, told the Press Herald. “If it is showing up in those high numbers, I’d be worried. It is a very nasty toxin.”

The Press Herald reports about five tons of shellfish, or 96 percent of the affect product, has been successfully recalled, which had been distributed throughout the United States by five Maine companies. No cases of illness from eating the tainted shellfish have been reported.

The Department of Marine Resources said the phytoplankton containing domoic acid has existed in Maine waters for decades, but that this was the first time any shellfish have tested above the safety threshold. The department has no theories on why it happened this time, the Press Herald reported.

A domoic acid outbreak last year off the west coast of the United States caused widsprea problems for shellfish harvesters, including a shutdown of Washington’s Dungeness crab fishery and a significant shortening of the California Dungeness crab season.

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