For Immediate Release - September 05, 2008

Governor Patrick Requests Federal Disaster Aid for Massachusetts Shellfish Industry

Red tide restrictions cost shellfish harvesters over $1.5 million in lost revenue; total economic impact could reach $7 million

BOSTON - Friday, September 05, 2008 - Noting the economic hardship this summer's red tide outbreak had on approximately 1,100 commercial shellfish harvesters and 35 aquaculturists in 11 coastal communities, Governor Deval Patrick today asked the US Department of Commerce to declare a commercial fishery failure, making the industry eligible for federal disaster assistance under the US Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

At various times between April and July, more than 600,000 acres of shellfish areas on the North and South Shores, Cape Cod, and Boston Harbor - as well as offshore surf clam beds - were closed to shellfish harvesting due to an extensive bloom of red tide bloom in the Gulf of Maine. In a letter to US Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez, the Governor wrote that the direct economic impact of these closures is currently estimated to exceed $1.525 million. Applying a conservative economic multiplier of 4.5, overall losses to shellfish processors, retailers and other related businesses in Massachusetts could approach $7 million.

"The closures have caused economic impact on certain Massachusetts communities where shellfishing is a major component of annual income for some fishermen," Governor Patrick wrote. "This disaster assistance is requested to help sustain shellfish fishing and prevent a local collapse of the industry."

"The shellfishing industry has sustained major financial hardships this summer," said Senate Bruce Tarr. "We need to join forces to support these families and businesses with the federal assistance they need to remain viable."

Also known as paralytic shellfish poison (PSP), red tide is a naturally occurring biotoxin caused by the alga Alexandrium funyense, which, at certain levels, makes shellfish unsafe to eat. Relatively unknown in Massachusetts before 1972, red tide has occurred throughout history in every ocean and sea throughout the world.

Beginning each March and continuing through November, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) conducts weekly coastline-wide monitoring for red tide. Based on the levels of the toxin in laboratory results, DMF closes areas to harvesting of affected species until three consecutive subsequent samples over a two-week period result in levels below the National Shellfish Sanitation Program's sanitation threshold.

While the majority of this year's red tide harvesting restrictions have now been lifted (the algae dissipate in early summer as water temperatures rise), species prohibited from harvest earlier this year included soft-shelled clams, quahogs, surf clams, razor clams oyster, whole (shell on) sea scallops, and blue mussels.

If approved by the US Department of Commerce, Governor Patrick's request for federal disaster assistance would pave the way for the US Congress to appropriate funds to compensate Massachusetts shellfish fishermen for revenue lost due to red tide closures.

For more information about red tide and this year's harvest restrictions, click here.