Pictured Above: Sunrise at Meetinghouse Creek.

Update:

On April 20, the DEC expanded the temporary ban on shellfish and gastropod harvesting to all of Flanders Bay and Reeves Bay, and to Jockey Creek and Town Creek in Southold Town. Here’s more info.

Original Story Follows:

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation on Thursday announced a temporary ban on the harvest of shellfish and carnivorous gastropods from two tributaries of Flanders Bay in the town of Riverhead and western Shinnecock Bay in the town of Southampton.

The closure is due to high concentrations of the dinoflagelate algae Alexandrium, which contains the marine biotoxin saxitoxin, which causes paralytic shellfish poisoning.

Alexandrium harmful algae blooms typically occur in April and May in New York,” according to an announcement of the closures from the Gobler Laboratory at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, which studies harmful algae blooms. “These are the second and third earliest paralytic shellfish poisoning-induced shellfish bed closures in New York State history, with the earliest occurring on April 4, 2012 in the Mattituck Inlet. Closures are rescinded once shellfish toxin levels are below FDA limits for three consecutive weeks.”

The DEC says mussels collected as part of the Marine Biotoxin Monitoring Program from monitoring sites in Meetinghouse Creek and Shinnecock Bay tested positive for saxitoxin at levels that exceeded the threshold to require closures.

The DEC says they will “continue to monitor for the presence of biotoxins in shellfish at several monitoring locations around Long Island and implement closures as necessary.”

The temporary closure is effective immediately. Filter-feeding shellfish — clams, oysters, mussels, and scallops — can accumulate marine biotoxins, which can cause illness in shellfish consumers. Carnivorous gastropods — whelks, conchs and moon snails —feed on shellfish and can also accumulate biotoxins at levels that are hazardous to human health.

Approximately 102 acres in Flanders Bay and 1,429 acres in Shinnecock Bay are affected.

The areas include Meetinghouse and Terry creeks, both tributaries of Flanders Bay, and the portion of Shinnecock Bay east of the Post Lane Bridge in Quogue and west of a line extending southerly from the southernmost point of land at Pine Neck Point in East Quogue to the northern terminus of Triton Lane, on the barrier beach south of Pine Neck Point.

This isn’t the first time these areas have been closed to shellfishing due to saxitoxin. The DEC closed the areas in Terry and Meetinghouse creeks to shellfish and carnivorous gastropods harvest in 2019, and had closed the same area of Western Shinnecock Bay in May 2018.

The creeks in Flanders bay are also the area where an Alexandrium bloom is believed to have caused a die-off of turtles and menhaden in May of 2015. The turtles’ favorite food source is shellfish and snails.

Symptoms of paralytic shellfish poisoning “depend on the amount of toxin ingested and can progress from tingling of the lips and tongue to numbness of the face, neck and limbs, loss of muscular control, followed by difficulty or cessation of breathing,” according to the Gobler Lab.

The DEC says they will re-open the areas as soon as possible based on the results of laboratory analyses that will be conducted over the next few weeks. A recorded message advising harvesters of the status of temporarily closed shellfishing areas is available by calling 631.444.0480.

The message will be updated during the course of the temporary closures. Maps of the affected areas and information about these temporary closures are available on DEC’s website, which also contains information about marine biotoxins and paralytic shellfish poisoning.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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