A clammer at work in mudflats around Mount Desert Island. State fisheries officials have received a new grant to improve their biotoxin monitoring program for the shellfish industry. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

DMR receives research grant



AUGUSTA — A $32,000 grant from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund has strengthened the Maine Department of Marine Resources’ ability to protect public health and preserve opportunity for Maine’s shellfish industry.

The funds will allow the department to purchase equipment to test for domoic acid, a naturally-occurring biotoxin that can cause serious health risks including amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP). The equipment will be purchased and DMR staff trained during the upcoming winter months.

While phytoplankton species that cause domoic acid have been detected in Maine waters for years, 2016 was the first year the biotoxin was found in concentrations that could cause adverse health impacts.

Levels of domoic acid detected by the DMR’s biotoxin monitoring program in September triggered closures of shellfish harvesting areas between Bar Harbor and the Canadian Border. The event lasted until mid-November when the final closed area was reopened.

The process of testing for domoic acid involves routine phytoplankton sampling at established sites along the Maine coast throughout the year. The samples are analyzed under a microscope by DMR staff and trained volunteers. If cell counts of the phytoplankton, known as Pseudonitzschia, in the water samples reach established levels, a test known as the Scotia Rapid test is conducted to determine if domoic acid is present.

If test results are positive, shellfish sampling in the vicinity begins and shellfish samples are sent to the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences for further confirmation using a method known as high-pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC).

If the concentration of biotoxin in the samples reaches a level established by FDA as a baseline for regulatory action, 20 parts per million in the case of domoic acid, the area associated with the toxic shellfish is immediately closed.

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