Unusual algae bloom causes concern in Gulf of Maine

Published on
September 27, 2017

An unusual bloom of phytoplankton in the Casco Bay region in the Gulf of Maine needs to be watched because of its potential to kill fish and shellfish.

This news comes shortly after the biotoxin domoic acid closed several shellfish areas. Five Maine shellfish dealers were able to quickly recall the majority of mussels distributed.

Now, the Department of Marine Resources is monitoring an extensive bloom of the phytoplankton Karenia mikimotoi, which is not a threat to human health.  

“However, the species can have harmful effects on finfish and shellfish and other marine organisms. There have been fish mortality events reported during blooms of this species in Hong Kong, Australia, Ireland, Japan, Korea, and Alaska,” DMR said in a statement.

DMR has received preliminary reports of softshell clam mortality events in Brunswick, Freeport, and Harpswelll, and is “working to confirm the cause and extent of these mortality events.”

Meanwhile, the department has reached out to the shellfish industry, aquaculture leaseholders, lobster dealers and shellfish dealers in the Casco Bay region advising them to develop plans to protect their product if they observe effects of low oxygen or toxins.

“We are not able to predict if a low oxygen event will occur or if the toxins it is known to produce will impact fish or shellfish,” said Maine DMR Public Health Bureau Director Kohl Kanwit. 

DMR has been working with Kate Hubbard, a research scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, who has extensive experience with Karenia mikimotoi, to gain a better understanding of the species, according to Hubbard.

“We will continue to work closely with Dr. Hubbard and partners at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, Kennebec River Biosciences, and NOAA to gain insight into this new species of phytoplankton and its effects on fish and shellfish,” Kanwit said.

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