AUGUSTA, Maine — Some areas of Down East Maine are dealing with the 2010 season’s first widespread shellfish bed closures from red tide, which has exploded in recent days after a relatively calm beginning of summer.
The Maine Department of Marine Resources has banned shellfish harvesting from Cutler to the Canadian border because of red tide.
Darcie Couture, director of DMR’s biotoxin monitoring program, said areas that had been showing few signs of toxicity just a few days ago were approaching quarantine levels by Thursday, thereby forcing the closures.
DMR had stepped up monitoring during the week in hopes of keeping some areas of Cobscook Bay open to shellfish harvesting over the holiday weekend. But Couture said the rate of the expansion was simply too rapid.
“There was just no way we could do it,” she said.
Maine has an extensive monitoring system that ensures that any shellfish sold by certified dealers in the state were harvested in areas unaffected by red tide.
Scientists had been warning that 2010 could bring another bad red tide season in Maine and elsewhere along the New England coast after a devastating season last year. Researchers attempt to gauge the likelihood of widespread blooms by measuring the amount of seeds or “cysts” of the organism that causes red tide.
“I think everybody was starting to get optimistic that we weren’t going to have a bad year because not a lot was going on,” Couture said.
Red tide algae occur naturally in the waters off the coast of New England and elsewhere. But during large blooms, shellfish can accumulate potentially toxic levels of red tide while filter-feeding. The resulting sickness, known as paralytic shellfish poisoning, can cause serious illness or death in humans who consume shellfish with toxic levels of red tide. Lobsters and crabs are not affected by red tide.
Couture said she expects additional closures Down East next week as the red tide spreads south.