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DMR Home > Penobscot River Closure FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions - Penobscot River Area Closure

Why is DMR closing this area to lobster and crab harvesting?

• Data were recently provided to the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) indicating levels of methylated mercury in tissue from lobsters and crabs in a small area in the mouth of the Penobscot River. After a review of the data by the State Toxicologist at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, DMR determined that due to the small area where the impacted lobsters were located, a closure would be the most effective measure to protect public health. During the two year closure the DMR, along with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (MECDC) will collaborate on monitoring efforts of marine resources in and near the closed area.

Why is DMR taking action based on this new data?

• For monitoring contaminants in Maine lobster, the state relies on data from the US Environmental Protection Agency’s National Coastal Condition Assessment (NCCA) Program, which last assessed contaminants in lobster in 2010. Data from the 2010 NCCA revealed that mercury levels in Maine lobster were below the Maine CDC action limit that would warrant a consumption advisory for sensitive populations. However, after review by the State Toxicologist Dr. Andrew Smith and DEP staff of the recently received data, which were collected as a result of court-ordered study stemming from a federal lawsuit (Maine People’s Alliance and the Natural Resources Defense Council v. Mallinckrodt, Inc.), DMR believes immediate action is warranted as a precautionary measure. The State will continue to collect more information from the area during the two-year closure to inform future management and public health actions. This limited closure will ensure that no lobsters from this area will be harvested or sold, so consumers can continue to enjoy Maine lobster in confidence.

How can I be sure that the area closed is sufficient, and that lobsters from outside this area are ok to eat?

• It is important to understand that lobsters from within the closed area are still safe to eat, but the State Toxicologist would advise that sensitive populations limit their consumption of lobsters from this area. The number of samples and the range of locations throughout the mouth of the Penobscot River and in the Penobscot Bay collected in the study provide a very large number of data points—far more than the state has previously had available. This dataset gave the State confidence that the samples taken from areas outside of the closure are below action levels.

What is the CDC action level for mercury in fish?

• The level of mercury in fin fish that warrants consideration of a consumption advisory by the MECDC for the most sensitive population is 200 nanograms (a billionth of a gram) of methylated mercury per gram of tissue. At that level, no more than one 8 ounce meal per week for pregnant and nursing women, and children under age 8 is recommended. Two average size whole lobsters would yield approximately 8 ounces of meat. There is currently no lobster-specific action level and therefore the State Toxicologist and DMR used the fin fish action levels in making a determination for this action.

Why are crabs included in the closure?

• While there was significantly less data available for crabs in the study, the DMR believes that there is adequate reason to be concerned that crabs would have similar contamination levels to lobster in the closure area. Because we have so little data from this area, DMR is being precautionary and closing the area to crab harvest until additional samples can be taken and analyzed.

How did DMR find out about the Study?

• DMR was provided with a chapter from the updated Study by a constituent and then sought to obtain a copy of the complete report.

What ongoing monitoring work will be done?

• Further monitoring will be conducted to gain additional information both inside and outside of the closure area. The goal will be to better understand mercury in impacted species. DMR, DEP and CDC will be working together to conduct seasonal monitoring on mercury levels in lobsters and crabs.

What will the outcome of that monitoring work be?

• The study will aim to determine, after two years, whether any further management action is warranted at that time, including whether the closed area can be re-opened or should remain closed.

For information and guidance on healthy fish consumption:

• The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention – 866-292-3474

For information on remediation efforts on the Penobscot River contact:

• The Maine Department of Environmental Protection – 207-287-5842

For more information on the lobster and crab harvest closure contact:

• The Maine Department of Marine Resources Communications Director – 624-6569