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Apr 11, 2012 8:19 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Shellfishing Closed In Western Shinnecock Bay After Deadly Toxin Detected

Apr 12, 2012 4:38 PM

The State Department of Environmental Conservation on Tuesday banned the harvesting of shellfish in all of western Shinnecock Bay after a toxin that has been blamed for the death of as many as four people in recent years were found in shellfish there.

No shellfish of any kind may be taken from the waters anywhere west of the Ponquogue Bridge, and the state has issued a warning to residents not to consume any shellfish that might have come from this area, because they could contain a natural poison, called saxitoxin, that can be harmful or lethal to humans if ingested. Saxitoxin is produced by an organism known as Alexandrium.

Two people died in Alaska in 2010 and more than 100 fell ill in the Pacific Northwest after consuming shellfish containing the same toxin found in shellfish in Shinnecock Bay this week. The closure—covering some 3,900 acres of bay bottoms—was prompted by the detection of the toxin in shellfish samples taken from Weesuck Creek in East Quogue, Penniman Creek in Westhampton, and Meeting House Creek near Indian Island County Park in Riverhead Town.

It is the second year that shellfish harvesting and consumption has been closed in western Shinnecock. Last year, the DEC issued a decree shutting the harvest for four weeks in May and June after marine biologists from Stony Brook University discovered the toxin was being carried by a species of microscopic organism that appeared in the bay last spring. Prior to the discovery, the DEC had not been monitoring shellfish from the area for the toxin, so the closure did not come until a month after the organism carrying it first appeared. This year, the DEC has set up monitoring sites throughout the region and began testing shellfish for toxins this month.

A statement from the DEC said the area will be reopened for shellfish as soon as possible, after samples show that shellfish are no longer carrying the toxin. The organism that carries the toxin tends to die off as waters warm in the early summer. Last year the bay was reopened for shellfishing in late June.

Earlier this year, the DEC closed Mattituck Creek in Mattituck to shellfishing after the same toxin was discovered.

Harbors in Northport and Hunntington Bay have been closed intermittently by the presence of Alexandrium since 2006.


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