Skip Bennett, owner of Island Creek Oysters in Duxbury, said he isn’t worried about the impact that a forecast for a large red tide bloom would have on the town's famed oysters.
Scientists took the unusual step of holding a teleconference for the media on Wednesday to warn about the potential for a large red tide bloom this spring that could close shellfish beds throughout New England.
But Skip Bennett, owner of Island Creek Oysters in Duxbury, said he isn’t worried about the forecast’s impact on the town's famed oysters. In fact, Bennett said the researchers will likely cause more harm to his industry than the algal bloom itself by potentially prompting wary consumers to avoid shellfish in stores and restaurants.
Bennett, whose company grows oysters and distributes the vast majority of oysters that are grown by the roughly 15 other oyster farmers in Duxbury, said the harmful algal blooms usually appear in the spring off the coast of Maine. While they can reach Massachusetts waters by sometime in May, Bennett said they rarely reach the secluded Duxbury Bay before drifting out to sea.
“It’s so unlikely,” Bennett said. “We certainly don’t lose any sleep about it or worry much about it.”
Bennett said the last red tide closure that Duxbury oyster farmers faced was in 2005, when the state’s shellfish industry grappled with the worst red tide bloom in recent memory.
In certain other years, the bloom has usually moved eastward away from land after moving south to Cape Ann from the waters off the Maine coast. As a result, the red tide blooms tend to have more of an impact on the North Shore than on the South Shore.
The state Division of Marine Fisheries monitors the harmful algal blooms closely because the organism that causes red tide can be fatal to humans if ingested in shellfish. The mandated closures help prevent unsafe shellfish from being sold commercially, but it can also cause shortages at some locations.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a warning Wednesday, saying cyst levels in the Gulf of Maine indicate the possibility for a red tide bloom that could be equally as bad as the 2005 bloom – or worse. That year’s red tide bloom caused an estimated $20 million in damages to the state’s shellfish industry.
The researchers cautioned that weather conditions play a key role in determining where the bloom spreads each year, regardless of its size.
Bennett said he worries that the publicity surrounding such warnings simply turns off consumers from eating oysters and clams, even though it is still safe to eat the shellfish sold in stores and restaurants.
“NOAA coming out with a red tide scare hurts us far more economically than being closed for four or five weeks,” Bennett said. “It’s taking money out of people’s pockets.”
Patriot Ledger writer Jon Chesto may be reached at email@example.com.