WASHINGTON — All four elected members of Maine’s congressional delegation have joined the state’s top elected official in requesting federal relief for the state’s shellfish industry.
In a letter dated Monday, Oct. 19, Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe and U.S. Reps. Michael Michaud and Chellie Pingree indicated that heavy rainfall and red tide outbreaks this summer “could not have come at a worse time for Mainers dependent on the shellfish resource.”
The delegation letter and another written Oct. 5 by Gov. John Baldacci were sent to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. In his letter, Baldacci formally requested assistance for the industry under the federal Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
According to the letters, 97 percent of the state’s shellfish beds and 100 percent of offshore federal shellfish areas were closed to harvesting during the past year in part because of red tide outbreaks. Higher pollution levels in Maine’s coastal waters that were caused by the heaviest recorded rains in Maine’s history also were a factor in the closures.
Red tide algae blooms are a natural ocean phenomenon that can result in dangerous levels of toxins in shellfish. Contaminated species such as clams, oysters or mussels can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning in humans, which can result in serious illness or even death.
“These closures due to extensive rainfall and a subsequent severe outbreak of [red tide] have impacted the shellfish industry and coastal economy far more drastically than similar events occurring in 2005 and 2008,” the letter from Maine’s congressional delegation stated. “In those years, Maine received disaster declarations and federal financial assistance for red tide-related fisheries failures.”
Maine received $2 million in federal aid as a result of the 2005 red tide outbreak and the same amount in 2008, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources.
The closures this summer were a result of natural causes and were necessary to maintain public safety, members of the delegation wrote.
Approximately 3,000 harvesters and dealers depend on access to healthy shellfish for their livelihoods, the delegation’s letter indicated. DMR estimates the annual economic value of the affected industry to be more than $50 million, most of which is generated between May and August each year.