DMR recalls mussels from Frenchman Bay and closes large area to shellfish harvesting

AUGUSTA — The Department of Marine Resources has banned most shellfish harvesting along the Downeast Coast because of the risk of amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP).

On Sept. 14, the department closed the area between East Point on Mount Desert Island and Cranberry Point in Gouldsboro to the harvest of all species of bivalve shellfish and carnivorous snails including mussels, clams, oysters and whelks.

On Friday, 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.

At the end of the week the department also substantially expanded the extent of the areas closed to shellfish harvesting to include the waters between Lopas Point in Tremont eastward to Petit Manan Point in Steuben, and east of a line between Cape Rosier in Brooksville and the southern tip of Sears Island in Searsport.

DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher also made several changes in the area between Machiasport and Calais

DMR reinstated a regional ban on the harvest of mussels, European oysters and surf or hen clams. The department also closed Cobscook Bay to the harvest of all clams, mussels, oysters and carnivorous snails.

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.

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, DMR instructed dealers to furnish a list of all customers who bought mussels harvested in the affected area between Sept. 10 to 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 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 with de Köning.

“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 the 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.

On Sept. 18, DMR was still assembling reports from dealers to determine the size of the recall. According to DMR spokesman Jeff Nichols, the department anticipated that a preliminary estimate would be available by Tuesday morning.

“We’re having excellent cooperation from the dealers,” Nichols said.

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]
Stephen Rappaport

Latest posts by Stephen Rappaport (see all)