Feds step up to save shellfish programs

The U.S. government on Thursday awarded USD 5 million (EUR 3.7 million) in disaster aid to New England states to help them monitor and predict algal blooms that can devastate the region's shellfish industry.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration approved USD 2 million for both Maine and Massachusetts and USD 1 million for New Hampshire.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration had threatened to block the sale of Maine shellfish outside the state if its Department of Marine Resources did not add four shellfish safety monitors to its staff. The state, which is mired in a budget shortfall, currently employs just five people to monitor about 3,500 miles of coastline.

Shellfish monitors are key in preventing human illnesses due to paralytic shellfish poisoning, which can occur if shellfish are taken from waters with high concentrations of algal blooms, known as red tide. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution warned last month of a "moderately large" chance that the poisonous algal blooms will return to the New England coastline and jeopardize shellfish harvests again.

Maine will also reportedly invest in buoy arrays that help track red tide occurrences.

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