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Sep 10, 2008 2:44 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Toxic red tide appears in bays

Sep 10, 2008 2:44 PM

“That’s a pretty important question but one that is very hard to answer,” he said. “If a fish swims into one of these patches, is it able to swim out? And will it then live? If not, that could mean big trouble for the fish.”

Mr. Warner said that he had been told by another fisherman that every single fish in one Shinnecock Bay pound trap had died after a red tide passed through it.

Mr. McAllister recalled the 2005 clam die-off in Flanders Bay. The shells of the dead clams, primarily juvenile soft clams, young of the year, washed up in a ribbon more than a foot deep and two feet wide along the entire shore of Flanders Bay.

The densest blooms this year are once again in Flanders Bay, but some very dark streaks of reddish brown water have been seen in the Peconics, particularly in Little Peconic Bay near Robins Island and west of Jessup’s Neck. Other blooms have been reported as far east as the estuaries in Greenport and Orient. Dr. Gobler said it is difficult to predict how far the red tide blooms could spread.

The brown tides that inundated East End bays sporadically between 1985 and 1995, and have been present but less widespread in years since, killed shellfish by forcing out the algae that shellfish feed on—slowly starving them. Fragile bay scallops suffered the worst and their once massive populations have never recovered. The brown tide, which stained almost the entire Peconic Estuary coffee brown in some years, also choked off sunlight to important aquatic plants, the reason many believe for the continuing failure of the scallop population to recover.

Now the struggling scallop and clam stocks that do remain face a new threat. Fishermen noted that this year’s bay scallop set is believed to be a strong one, compared to the anemic numbers that have been the norm for the last 13 years. But as the streaks of red rove around some of the East End’s most productive grounds, particularly the areas near Robins Island and the eastern North Fork, hope for the November fishery is in doubt.

“This definitely puts it all at risk,” Mr. McAllister said.

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