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June 4, 2014

Red tide triggers shutdown of area shellfish beds

In the first widespread local closure since 2011, the state Division of Marine Fisheries today shut down all shellfish harvesting areas stretching from Newbury to Gloucester because of elevated levels of the marine biotoxin commonly known as red tide.

The closure, which includes the harvesting of all species of shellfish, is likely to last for a minimum of three weeks, according to Jeff Kennedy, regional shellfish supervisor at DMF’s Annisquam River Marine Fisheries Field Station.

“We will be monitoring weekly and we will need three descending counts in the levels (of the red tide) to re-open these areas,” Kennedy said this afternoon.

According to DMF, red tide is the name used to describe “a bloom in marine waters of single-cell microscopic algae which contain both red pigments and harmful neurotoxins.”

In the Northeast, the organism that causes the bloom is the Alexandrium fundyense phytoplankton that contain neurotoxins. The shellfish feed on the plankton and store the neurotoxins in their digestive tract and viscera, sometimes to dangerous and even lethal levels if they are eaten.

The neurotoxins can cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning, whose symptoms include tingling and numbness of the lips, tongue and extremities; drowsiness; giddiness; unsteadiness, vomiting and diarrhea. In extreme cases, respiratory arrest and possibly death can result.

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT and check out his blog, Glosta Daily, on gloucestertimes.com

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