From: Brooke Donald, Associated Press
Published May 10, 2006 12:00 AM

Officials Prep for Red Tide Outbreak

BOSTON — Officials are preparing for the possibility of a new outbreak of red tide even as the state continues to deal with the effects of last year's devastating bloom that closed shellfish beds and caused $50 million in damage to tourism and fishing industries.

At a briefing for lawmakers and their aides at the Statehouse, officials from the Division of Marine Fisheries and the Department of Fish and Game said they are monitoring coastal waters and taking steps to make sure that when a bloom hits, they can reopen shellfish beds as quickly as possible.

"We are prepared to deal with this red tide. We are hoping for the best. We are prepared to deal with the worst," said David Peters, commissioner of the state Department of Fish and Game.

Last year's toxic algae bloom was the worst in state history. Shellfish beds from Maine to Buzzards Bay on Cape Cod were closed at the height of the outbreak, putting about 2,000 clammers, oyster farmers and mussel harvesters temporarily out of work.

Red tide is formed when a microscopic algae reproduces at an explosive rate. The algae produces a neurotoxin that can paralyze or make breathing difficult for fish, manatees or even humans that inhale or ingest it. No illnesses associated to the outbreak were reported last year in Massachusetts.

Michael Hickey, the state's chief shellfish biologist, said one challenge this year is that there are still shellfish beds contaminated from last year's bloom and some shellfish species, such as quohogs and sea scallops, can carry toxins for a year, continuing to have an effect on the industry.

"We're still working to get areas open from last year," he said. "If we had another bloom, we could have overlapping closures."

Hickey said that a current bloom in Maine has already reached the New Hampshire state line and could be in Massachusetts waters in the next two weeks, depending on weather conditions.

"Things are starting to heat up," Peters said.

But officials said there is good news. Scientists say there doesn't appear to be enough of the red tide cysts on the ocean floor in Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays to produce large local blooms this year.

"The level each year is going to be different," Peters said. But, "red tide is here to stay."

New Hampshire tidal waters, including the offshore Atlantic wates, have actually been closed since May 2, following several days of heavy rainfall. Blue mussels from Star Island collected on Monday showed toxin levels above the mandatory closure threshold.

Source: Associated Press

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