Lower Narragansett Bay Closed to Shellfishing

By ecoRI News staff

Rhode Island waters are experiencing a bloom of toxic phytoplankton. Click map for larger image. (DEM)

Rhode Island waters are experiencing a bloom of toxic phytoplankton. Click map for larger image. (DEM)

A shellfish harvesting closure went into effect Oct. 21 for lower Narragansett Bay and a portion of Rhode Island Sound, according to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM). 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,” DEM director Janet Coit said. “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.”

On Oct. 7, DEM and the Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH) 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 Oct. 15. Water and shellfish samples continued to be collected and analyzed given the bloom’s ongoing presence in local and regional waters.

Recently, 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, the lower West Passage of Narragansett 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, according to DEM.

“Making sure that our food supply is safe is a core function of good public health,” Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, DOH director, said. “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.”

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 a 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 Oct. 20.

For updates on shellfish closure areas, contact the DEM 24-hour shellfishing hotline at 401-222-2900, sign up for the DEM Marine Fisheries e-mail list here, or visit the DEM website.