PROVIDENCE – A shellfish harvesting closure is in effect for lower Narragansett Bay and a portion of Rhode Island Sound. A closure is also in effect for lower Sakonnet River. The closures are due to preliminary toxic shellfish findings associated with the harmful algae bloom being monitored in Rhode Island waters. The closures include carnivorous snails, such as whelk and moon snails.
"Our team is working tirelessly to monitor this situation and take precautionary action to ensure public safety and uphold the reputation of our seafood," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "This is a great example of the system working: We regularly monitor Rhode Island waters so we can catch potential issues early, address them, and work to safeguard our families, businesses, and natural resources. We appreciate everyone's patience and understanding as we continue to deal with this first-ever event in Rhode Island. And I look forward to getting back to business as usual as quickly as possible."
On October 7, The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) announced a precautionary shellfishing closure for Rhode Island waters due to a confirmed bloom of toxic phytoplankton, Pseudo-nitzschia spp. During the week-long closure, water and shellfish samples were analyzed for the presence of the toxin domoic acid which is responsible for amnesic shellfish poisoning in humans. All shellfish samples collected tested negative. The closure was lifted on October 15 as a result. Water and shellfish samples continued to be collected and analyzed given the bloom's ongoing presence in local and regional waters.
This week, domoic acid was detected in preliminary screenings of shellfish collected from lower Sakonnet River and the lower East Passage of Narragansett Bay. Shellfish samples from these areas are undergoing additional testing to determine if the toxin is present at levels of concern. Based on preliminary findings in lower Sakonnet River and the East Passage of the Bay, the lower West Passage of the Bay has been closed as a precautionary measure. Shellfish samples from throughout Rhode Island waters will continue to be collected and analyzed until the bloom subsides.
"Making sure that our food supply is safe is a core function of good public health," said Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health. "The Rhode Island Department of Health's Center for Food Protection has been coordinating closely with food distributors throughout the state and the State Laboratories have been testing water samples related to this algae continually, and they will continue to do so in coordination with DEM. Our number one priority is the health and safety of Rhode Islanders."
Impacted waters include all waters north of a line from Point Judith to Sakonnet Point Light and south of a line from the southern extension of 2nd street in the Sauga Point area of North Kingstown to Conanicut Point in Jamestown to the day marker at Halfway Rock in Portsmouth. The restriction also extends to waters south of an east/west line across the Sakonnet River lying one-quarter mile south of the pipeline found just south of Black Point. Shellfish harvested from the open portions of Harvester Tagging Areas 4A and 3W should temporarily be identified as 4A North and 3W North. Shellfish dealers should continue to hold shellfish harvested from 4A prior to sunset on October 20.
For updates on shellfish closure areas, contact the DEM 24-hour shellfishing hotline at 401-222-2900 and/or sign up for the DEM Marine Fisheries email list at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.dem.ri.gov/shellfishclosure for more information on the harmful algae bloom in Rhode Island waters.
For more information on DEM divisions and programs, visit www.dem.ri.gov. Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RhodeIslandDEM or on Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM) for timely updates.