Tests Show Neurotoxin in Shellfish

    Last Thursday, the State Department of Environmental Conservation closed approximately 490 acres of bottomland in Southampton Town to shellfishing due to detection of a marine biotoxin associated with paralytic shellfish poisoning.
    The closing includes the bottom of Sag Harbor Cove and Upper Sag Harbor Cove and their tributaries lying west of the Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge on Route 114. “All harvesting of shellfish and carnivorous gastropods (whelks, conchs, and moon snails) is prohibited until further notice in an effort to protect the public’s health,” according to a D.E.C. press release.
     The action was taken after shellfish collected from a monitoring site in Sag Harbor Cove tested positive for saxitoxin, a type of neurotoxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning. Paralytic shellfish poisoning can be fatal in individuals with compromised immune systems.
    Among the symptoms are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, tingling or burning lips, gums, tongue, face, neck, arms, legs, and toes. It can also cause shortness of breath, slurred speech, a choking feeling, and loss of coordination.
    The testing was conducted as part of a regular testing program.
The D.E.C. closed areas in western Shinnecock Bay early last month. Sag Harbor’s closed bottomland will remain closed until tests prove there is no longer a threat to public health.     
    The toxin in question is produced by tiny algae known as dinoflagellates. Because shellfish are filter feeders they tend to store the toxin. Testing stations are typically set up in early spring. Testing continues on a regular basis until algal blooms dissipate later in the summer months.