East End residents and visitors are being warned by state officials not to eat any shellfish or certain predators of shellfish harvested from western Shinnecock Bay, because of high concentrations of toxic algae that are blooming in the bay.
The state this week expanded its warning against eating shellfish from western Shinnecock to include warnings against eating conch, whelk, or the so-called “tamale” of crabs or lobsters taken from the area as well.
A ban on the harvesting of shellfish from the waters west of the Ponquogue Bridge was put in place last week after a species of a bloom of red algae that produces a biotoxin that can be harmful, or even fatal, to humans reached higher levels than had ever been detected in the bay.
The algae, Alexandrium, naturally produces a toxin that can cause temporary paralysis in humans and is known to have been responsible for the deaths of at least two people in Alaska in recent years. The level of Alexandrium, one of a handful of red algae species whose blooms are dubbed “red tide,” has led the state to close shellfishing in Huntington Harbor on Long Island as well as in parts of Massachusetts and Maine in recent years. This is the first time that concentrations of the algae have been dense enough in Shinnecock Bay to close shellfishing.
Shellfish taken from the eastern portions of Shinnecock Bay and from the Peconics and Gardiners Bay are safe to eat.
It is expected that the harvest ban and consumption warnings will be lifted by early summer as the algae bloom fades with warming water temperatures.