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May 11, 2012 4:48 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Western Shinnecock Shellfish Cleared As Safe As Toxin Disipates, Sag Harbor Still Off Limits

May 23, 2012 12:14 PM

The state Department of Environmental Conservation reopened most of western Shinnecock Bay to the harvesting of shellfishing last week, although a small portion near Weesuck Creek remains closed due to high levels of a potentially toxic “red tide” algae bloom. Farther east, Sag Harbor Cove also remains closed.

The reopening of most of Shinnecock Bay comes a month after shellfishing was banned in the entire 3,600-acre bay after a potentially deadly neurotoxin was found in shellfish there.

It was the second year in a row that shellfishing in the bay was closed because of the presence of the toxin, which is produced by a red algae that has bloomed in the bay in recent years. Last year, shellfishing was not reopened until mid June.

All of Sag Harbor Cove north of the Haerter Memorial Bridge was closed to shellfishing on April 26 and has not been cleared for harvesting to resume yet.

Consuming shellfish infected with the toxin, called saxitoxin, was blamed for the death of at least two people in Alaska in 2010 and illness among hundreds of other in the Pacific Northwest last year. It has never been blamed for any illness on Long Island.

After weeks of extensive testing of shellfish from multiple sites around the western Shinnecock Bay, the DEC determined on May 11 that the levels of toxin in the shellfish dropped below the threshold that could pose a human health threat.

The testing showed that shellfish taken from an area near the mouth of Weesuck Creek, were found to still contain dangerous levels of the toxin.

Likewise, monitoring of shellfish in Sag Harbor Cove has not shown a diminution of the toxin yet. This year was the first time that the Alexandrium organism and the saxitoxin were found in Sag Harbor Cove shellfish.

The harvesting of whelk, or conch, remains prohibited in both Shinnecock Bay and Sag Harbor Cove because those animals do not expel the toxin as quickly.

MICHAEL WRIGHT

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