CSCOR Award Helps New York Ensure Continued Seafood Safety
In late April 2010, the Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research (CSCOR) Harmful Algal Bloom Event Response program provided funds to the New York State Division of Fish, Wildlife, and Marine Resources, allowing the state to continue monitoring paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) toxin levels in Long Island Sound molluscan shellfish. State officials were concerned about rising Alexandrium algal cell numbers and some shellfish samples testing positive for low levels of PSP toxin in the Huntington/Northport complex of bays and harbors in western Suffolk County. In past years, rising Alexandrium cell abundance in this area has been a precursor to PSP toxin levels in harvestable shellfish that exceed regulatory thresholds for consumption. Also, due to a delayed enactment of the New York State 2010–11 operating budget, officials were unable to support necessary increases in monitoring effort, and the state biotoxin laboratory was unable to complete regulatory testing required by the National Shellfish Sanitation Program.
NOAA funding helped the state maintain its ability to screen waters for Alexandrium-like cells and shellfish for Alexandrium-related toxins, and allowed the state to conduct the rigorous testing required to determine if closures were needed to protect human health. NOAA covered costs for shipping shellfish tissue samples to an NSSP-approved biotoxin lab run by the State of Maine Department of Marine Resources. Additionally, NOAA funds were used to purchase rapid test kits for state scientists to determine the extent and severity of the HAB event. Monitoring of sentinel shellfish in the Huntington/Northport Bay complex showed a level of PSP toxins that exceeded the alert level. This led to an initial closure order enacted by the state on May 12, prohibiting shellfish harvesting from ~2,200 acres of Northport Bay and two adjacent tributary harbors. On May 18, a new order expanded the affected shellfish areas to ~7,500 acres throughout all the bays and harbors in the Huntington/Northport complex (see map). This was the maximum area closed due to PSP toxins in 2010 and the greatest HAB toxin impact since New York State first implemented biotoxin closures in 2006. Based on the Maine mouse bioassay results from samples shipped with CSCOR support, New York state was able to implement a partial re-opening (~5,300 acres) on June 4. The remaining 2,200 acres were re-opened on June 16, and monitoring continued through the end of June 2010. The CSCOR award enabled New York to continue to operate its well-established and rigorous shellfish monitoring program, in the face of state budget uncertainty, maintaining protection of the health of shellfish consumers and protecting one of the most valuable fisheries for New York State.