AUGUSTA — Most of Frenchman Bay remains closed to shellfish harvesting after shellfish taken from the area were found to contain elevated levels of a dangerous biotoxin that causes amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP).
Harvesting of clams, mussels, oysters and whelks is prohibited until further notice in the area between Lopaus Point in Tremont and Cranberry Point in Gouldsboro, Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) spokesman Jeff Nichols said Wednesday.
When it was first announced Sept. 14, the closure stretched from East Point in Mount Desert to Cranberry Point.
“It was extended Friday to go from Lopaus Point up to Petit Manaan,” Nichols said. “But because of testing, they moved the closure line back today. They kept the western end of the closure [in Tremont] but shrunk it back down to Cranberry Point.”
On Friday, the DMR ordered shellfish dealers to recall and destroy mussels harvested from Frenchman Bay between Sept. 10 and Sept. 14 because shellfish taken from the area were found to contain elevated levels of domoic acid, the biotoxin that causes ASP. The department collected the samples in response to a widespread and abundant bloom of the phytoplankton, or algae, Pseudo-nitzschia in Downeast waters.
On Tuesday, the recall was reported to be 98 percent complete.
Domoic acid is a naturally occurring substance found in the algae that forms the diet of most shellfish, and ASP is no laughing matter.
According to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, acute symptoms of ASP include vomiting and diarrhea. In some of the worst cases, victims also experienced confusion, loss of memory, disorientation and even coma.
The DMR notified all Maine shellfish dealers on Friday that shellfish harvested in the closed area of Frenchman Bay, between MDI and Gouldsboro, were subject to the recall. The recall particularly affected several dealers who purchase directly from harvesters, including Atlantic Shellfish in Jonesport; Eastern Maine Mussel in Hancock; Moosabec Mussels Inc. in Jonesport; and Pemaquid Oyster Co. in Waldoboro.
Based on test results, mussels were the only shellfish subject to the recall as of mid-afternoon on Monday. The federal Food and Drug Administration requires protective actions including area closures and product recalls if shellfish are found to have at least 2 milligrams of domoic acid per 100 grams of shellfish tissue.
As required by National Shellfish Sanitation Program guidelines, the DMR instructed dealers to furnish a list of all customers who bought mussels harvested in the affected area between Sept. 10 and Sept. 14, including the quantities that each purchased. The department also directed the dealers to furnish written reports of recall activities.
Trenton-based Hollander and de Köning Acadia-Aquafarms grows mussels in Frenchman Bay. Last week’s closure “affected us quite a bit,” Fiona de Köning, speaking for the company, said Monday afternoon. The company recalled one shipment before it reached consumers and was able to stop a second order before it went out the door.
De Köning commended the DMR for its quick action.
“Thank goodness we got it while it was still in the supply chain,” de Köning said. “The number one priority has to be public health.”
Joe Porada, an oyster farmer and chairman of the Frenchman Bay Regional Shellfish Conservation Committee, agreed.
“My perspective, DMR is really doing a good job protecting the industry,” Porada said Monday. “None of us want to see anybody getting sick. Then you see a headline ‘people get sick eating Maine shellfish’ in the LA Times.”
As part of last week’s recall, the DMR directed dealers to tell their customers to destroy any recalled mussels on hand by putting them in a dumpster or landfill and to denature them with bleach.
“We’re having excellent cooperation from the dealers,” Nichols said.
A total of 58,480 pounds of mussels harvested in Frenchman Bay were affected by the recall, which went into effect Friday. By Monday afternoon, 57,492 pounds had been recovered and destroyed.
“At this point, the recall is complete, and due to the cooperation of the dealers involved, we have been able to recover nearly all of the affected product,” said Kohl Kanwit, director of the Maine Department of Marine Resources Public Health Bureau.
MDI is part of Area No. 64-A in the system used by the DMR Department of Public Health. For current maps of closed
Updated Sept. 20 at 4:35 p.m.