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May 8, 2015 7:44 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

DEC Closes Western Shinnecock Bay To Shellfish Harvesting Due To Toxin

All of western Shinnecock Bay is closed to shellfishing due to the accumulation of saxitoxin from red tide dinoflagellates.
May 13, 2015 11:44 AM

Most of western Shinnecock Bay remains closed to shellfishing due to the presence of a potentially deadly marine biotoxin produced by a “red tide” algae bloom.

The closure, imposed last Thursday, May 7, by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, marks the third time in the past four years that the western portion of the bay has been closed to shellfishing in the spring because of the blooms of the algae, known as Alexandrium. The restriction applies to all bi-valve shellfish and gastropods, like conch, whelk and moonsnails.

No human cases of biotoxin illness have ever been reported from ingesting shellfish taken from western Shinnecock Bay and, in years past, the restriction on the harvest of shellfish has typically been lifted by early June, when the algae blooms dissipate as the bay waters warm. Scientists said this week that the Alexandrium bloom is already showing signs of beginning to die out.

The DEC’s decision to close approximately 3,900 acres of bay bottom in Southampton Town came after shellfish collected from monitoring sites in Weesuck Creek in East Quogue showed levels of saxitoxin two times higher than the federal threshold for closing down shellfish harvesting.

Saxitoxin is a marine biotoxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning, or PSP. Saxitoxin poisoning has sickened hundreds nationwide over the last decade and even caused two deaths in the Pacific Northwest in 2010 when people ate shellfish tainted with it.

The DEC first closed Shinnecock shellfishing because of Saxitoxin concerns in 2011 and 2012. In those years the DEC protocol was to close all shellfish harvesting if any saxitoxin was detected. In 2013 the DEC changed its protocol and started measuring the amounts of the toxin found in shellfish samples and in 2013 and 2014 did not close shellfishing in the bay because the levels detected were not dense enough to cause health concerns. But this year the levels of the toxin found in samples leapt to more than three-times previously detected levels.

Scientists are not sure why the levels jumped this year.

"Usually we're getting 40 or 50 micro-grams of saxitoxin...this year it got up to 170 micro-grams," said Christopher Gobler, Ph.D. a marine bioligist at Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, and a leading expert on aquatic algae blooms. "We don't know the epicenter of the bloom. We're finding the cells, we know the shellfish are most toxic in Weesuck Creek and we think the cells are washing in from north of that area but we're not certain."

Alexandrium is one of two problematic red algae species that have bloomed in local bays in recent years. The second species, a swimming dinoflagellate called Cochlodinium, typically emerges in late July and, unlike Alexandrium, is typically widespread throughout eastern Shinnecock Bay and the Peconics, and lasts for two to three months.

Cochlodinium poses no health risks for humans and has not led to closures of any fisheries, but it can be deadly to fish and shellfish, and has been blamed for massive die-offs of scallops and isolated fish-kills in enclosed harbors.

Cool weather and light rainfall in the spring and summer of 2014 led to greatly reduced densities of both red algae blooms. There were no shellfish closures from Alexandrium last year and a robust scallop harvest and bountiful fish stocks in the Peconics were attributed to the relative absence of the Cochlodinium blooms that have tiger-striped the bays a rusty red—dubbed “the rust tide” by scientists—in the decade since the blooms first emerged in local waters.

The DEC has also closed approximately 100 acres of underwater land in neighboring Riverhead Town last week as well due to blooms of Alexandrium. The DEC has 13 locations across Long Island that monitor for the presence of biotoxins.

The DEC will continue to monitor the toxicity levels in the shellfish in Southampton Town over the next few weeks. Harvesters are encouraged to call (631) 444-0480 for the latest information on the closures.

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Keep building people. Pretty soon we won't be able to swim or fish in our waters. Nice job.
By johnj (1024), Westhampton on May 8, 15 10:09 AM
2 members liked this comment
... this is before any shovels are in the ground on any proposed projects. No upside to big development.
By William Rodney (561), southampton on May 8, 15 1:44 PM
Now tell me..........do you really want to roll the dice in approving "The Hills" in East Quogue Supervisor Throne-Holst and SH Town Board???????
By crusader (391), East Quogue on May 8, 15 2:17 PM
Jamaicaca Bay revisited......

By alhavel (50), Hampton Bays on May 8, 15 5:18 PM
Jamaica Bay all over again , damn auto-correct
By alhavel (50), Hampton Bays on May 8, 15 5:25 PM
You had it right the first time...Jamai ca-ca Bay.
And soon we will have our own Pee conic.
By loading... (601), quiogue on May 9, 15 9:50 AM
1 member liked this comment
The freaking UTI developers don't understand how vital our bays are to our way of life , and in all probability don't care. Keep bending over Queen Anna, your record is perfect!!!
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on May 8, 15 5:35 PM
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on May 9, 15 7:14 PM
A Sewer district should be established with the Preservation funds. Sewer treatment is a Better remedy than land purchase.
By kpjc (161), east quogue on May 8, 15 7:57 PM
I think they should build waterfront condos on the canal and another golf course. That will ensure the way of life and allure of the east end for the long term locals and their children to return to as they get older and look through fences and red tide.
By lirider (288), Westhampton Beach on May 8, 15 10:20 PM
Welcome to the place beyond the tipping point... There is no return from here...

I've watched the changes in our waters from the decks of working boats for decades, worked the last of the great scallop harvests in the 1980's, pinhooked for bass and flounder and now cultivate shellfish...

It would be in my best financial interest to say otherwise,but the reality is that the party is over. You just can't fight the tide. This place has been bought and paid for by the real estate ...more
By Split Rock (68), North Haven on May 8, 15 10:42 PM
4 members liked this comment
I think there are a couple of carnivorous gastropods in town hall
By CaptainSig (716), Dutch Harbor on May 9, 15 6:54 AM
If we are to allow more developments, we are going to establish sewer districts. Instead of taxing homeowners, make the developers pay for them.
By tenn tom (259), remsenburg on May 9, 15 8:27 AM
.... and then the developer passes it onto the homeowner.
By Split Rock (68), North Haven on May 9, 15 4:57 PM
Don't you already have your home? It wouldn't cost you a dime.
By tenn tom (259), remsenburg on May 9, 15 5:48 PM