ELLSWORTH — When it rains of late, it pours. And when it pours, in addition to flooding roads and cellars, a deluge can wash all sorts of pollutants from the shore into the water and force the Department of Marine Resources to shut down some of the state’s shellfish industry.
That’s what happened Monday when DMR stopped shellfish harvesting along the coast of Maine from eastern Penobscot Bay to the west side of Mount Desert Island, including Blue Hill Bay, because of a more-than-2-inch rainfall during a 24-hour period over the weekend.
Effective 1 p.m. on Monday, the department banned the harvest or possession of clams, quahogs (hardshell clams), oysters or mussels taken from an area east of a line drawn from Dice Head in Castine to Head of the Cape on Cape Rosier, Eagle Island in eastern Penobscot Bay and Crotch Island (Stonington) at the entrance to the Deer Island Thorofare, and north of a line running from Crotch Island running northeast to Bass Harbor Head. The closed area extends along the western shore of Mount Desert Island and then west of a line beginning at the Trenton/Bar Harbor bridge and extending to the mainland.
The closure is necessary in order to protect public health from risks caused by high levels of dangerous fecal coliform bacteria.
Bryant Lewis, DMR’s western Maine shellfish growing area program supervisor, said Monday afternoon that the closure could extend for several days, depending on the results of water quality samples taken at about a dozen sites within the closed area. Testing the samples takes about 24 hours.
“We begin sampling within two or three days after the rain ends,” Lewis said. Sampling could have begun as early as Wednesday.
“We reopen an area as soon as the test scores are below the threshold,” for dangerous levels of bacteria. “We reopen an area as soon as it’s clean.”
Generally, winter closures are shorter than those that may occur in warmer months, when more animals are active on shore. In summer, Lewis said, animal wastes containing harmful bacterial wash into brooks far inland and only slowly make their way downstream to rivers and bays.