Winter 2018 Maine DMR Public Health Newsletter


A New Species of Phytoplankton in Maine Poses a Threat to Fish and Shellfish - By Marine Resource Specialist Ari Leach

The phytoplankton monitoring program at the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) plays a vital role in keeping Maine's shellfish industry strong and viable, as well as protecting the public from consuming shellfish contaminated with Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP), also referred to as Red Tide and Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP). The phytoplankton monitoring program collects water samples from along the entire coast of Maine from 87 sampling stations. These water samples are then analyzed by highly trained volunteers or by DMR staff at the DMR laboratories. The volunteer and DMR staff are looking for target phytoplankton species including Alexandrium, the phytoplankton largely responsible for PSP in Maine, along with several other species known to produce toxins.

Late this summer, specialists at DMR received multiple calls from fishermen, boaters, and concerned members of the public about a visible change in the color of the water in areas of southern Maine. Upon investigation, specialists quickly discovered that the change in water color was due to a large bloom of a dinoflagellate called Karenia mikimotoi, a species of phytoplankton that, in high density blooms, can change the color of the water. Samples of the discolored water were taken along the coast from Eliot up to Harpswell at 24 stations and monitored for the presence of Karenia mikimotoi, which aided DMR in understanding the extent of the bloom. Calculated cell densities also helped DMR to provide information to industry members in an attempt to avoid losses of pounded lobsters or aquacultured shellfish due to low dissolved oxygen in the water.

There is little known about the toxins produced by Karenia mikimotoi, though there are links between blooms of this dinoflagellate and lowered dissolved oxygen rates in seawater, which can result in loss of marine life. While Karenia mikimotoi can cause fish and shellfish kills through oxygen depletion, it is not known to be a threat to human health. While close monitoring of the Karenia mikimotoi bloom has aided fishing industry members in avoiding losses due to lowered dissolved oxygen levels, it has also established a database for the DMR to continue adding valuable information to in the coming seasons, as the Gulf of Maine waters continue to warm and blooms of phytoplankton occur more frequently and with new patterns across coast of Maine.

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Karenia Moikimotoi

An aerial view of a Karenia mikimotoi bloom along the Fore River in Southern Maine, 2017. Courtesy of DMR Western Growing Area Supervisor Bryant Lewis.

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Biotoxin Field Sampling 101 - By Marine Resource Specialist II Barry King and Marine Resource Specialist Katie Barvenik

The Maine Department of Marine Resources monitors for marine biotoxin on a year-round basis. These toxins can vary depending on the species of phytoplankton blooming. Phytoplankton are the microscopic food source for the mussels, clams and other bivalve shellfish that support Maine's coastal economy. While the majority of phytoplankton are harmless to human health, certain species can produce harmful toxins that can lead to serious illnesses, or in severe cases, death. The most prevalent toxins found in the Gulf of Maine are Saxitoxins and Domoic Acid. Saxitoxins are produced by the phytoplankton Alexandrium spp. which causes Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP). Domoic Acid is produced by the phytoplankton Pseudo-nitzschia spp. which causes Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP).

Monitoring for these toxins is accomplished by collecting shellfish and phytoplankton samples. Phytoplankton is used as an indicator to determine when shellfish meat sampling should occur. When certain phytoplankton levels are reached (measured in number of cells/liter of seawater), the Department then begins collecting shellfish to determine the actual concentration of toxins in the shellfish meat. The species collected vary based on the intensity of any potential biotoxin contamination and resource availability in each area. Blue mussels (Mytilus) tend to assimilate toxins most rapidly and therefore are generally used as the indicator species. When toxin levels begin to rise in mussels, other species like clams and quahogs are then sampled.

Shellfish sampling occurs within 2 hours of low tide, regardless of weather or time of day. A shellfish sample consists of at least 12 individuals of the targeted species collected from a specific area or cove. Once a sample is collected, it is placed in a corresponding labeled waterproof bag, and put in a cooler full of ice. From there, all collected samples are brought back to the lab and checked in for processing. Each sample remains isolated by collection location and is processed by first shucking and then blending the entire shellfish tissue. A portion of the blended sample undergoes a chemical extraction procedure isolating all toxins from the shellfish tissue. The extracted toxins are then sent for analysis at either the DMR Lab or Bigelow Laboratories both located in Boothbay Harbor. Once the toxin concentration for each sample and associated location is determined, the results are compared to toxin threshold standards recognized by the US Food and Drug Association (FDA). When levels from an area exceeds the safe for consumption threshold the area is closed to shellfish harvesting. Based on these results, sampling is adjusted in frequency and location to determine extent the of the toxic phytoplankton bloom.

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Health and Catch Certificates: Maximizing Efficiency for Lobster Exporters - By Shellfish Program Coordinator Angel Wilson

The State of Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) began a partnership with NOAA Seafood Inspection Program (SIP) in 2016 that has helped Maine live lobster exporters ship their product overseas more efficiently.

The new partnership, in which Maine DMR Public Health Bureau staff members are authorized to certify that lobster shipments meet the unique requirements of each importing country, is an effort to help Maine exporters meet the needs of overseas customers for timely shipments of live lobsters.

Previously, exporters had to arrange for certificates with the Gloucester, MA NOAA SIP office, which sometimes meant a delay in receiving the certificate necessary for a shipment to occur. Now, with DMR staff providing the certifications, Maine lobster exporters can often receive certificates the same day they are requested, and shipments can get sent sooner.

The authority for Maine DMR staff to certify shipments was the result of training conducted by NOAA for four members of DMR's Public Health Bureau staff. DMR's Public Health Bureau also administers the Maine Shellfish Dealer Certification Program outlined by the National Shellfish Sanitation Program (NSSP) to evaluate and certify all wholesale shellfish dealers in Maine. These dealers must be certified under the NSSP to ship, or process shellfish for shipment, within and outside of the state of Maine.

DMR routinely works with exporters who send live lobsters to China and the European Union, however DMR can issue different types of export certificates, depending on the shipping destination and country-specific requirements. In 2017, DMR processed over 700 certificates for overseas shipments of live Maine lobster.

If you would like more information regarding the certification process, please contact James Becker.

You can also find much more detailed information for the NOAA Seafood Inspection Program at

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Bringing Real-World Science into the Classroom - By DMR Biologist Heidi Leighton

This fall, the DMR Shellfish Management Program has been working in cooperation with Sumner Memorial High School (SMHS), the Gouldsboro and Steuben shellfish programs, Downeast Institute (DEI), and Schoodic Institute on a project to bring real-world science into the classroom. Students in the Pathways program at SMHS are engaged in experiential learning projects which utilize local industries as well as classroom activities to meet academic standards.

The students have been working on a variety of projects related to shellfish. In an effort to repurpose a lobster pound as a shellfish research site, they have designed a replacement spillway door, cleaned up debris, and conducted a clam population survey. This winter the students will deploy and monitor green crab traps in and around the pound in order to document activity of this predatory species through different seasons. With DEI, students have assisted in a project to test the growth and survival of clam seed when covered by protective netting in both Steuben and Gouldsboro. Using data they collected and processed, students are now analyzing the results of a separate study to determine if placement of plastic boxes on the flats can enhance clam settlement.

Bill Zoellick of Schoodic Institute has been publishing a blog about this project to link students, harvesters, and scientists. For more information about the specific projects involved and how the students have participated, articles can be found at the following links:

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Summary of Actions from the 2017 Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference - By DMR Public Health Bureau Director Kohl Kanwit

The Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC) is a partnership between state shellfish authorities, industry representatives and the federal government. The goal of the organization is to cooperatively manage the safety of bivalve shellfish throughout the United States and partnering countries such as Canada, Mexico, South Korea and New Zealand. The ISSC is where the National Shellfish Sanitation Program (NSSP) Model Ordinance is modified through a process of proposal submission, debate and voting. The ISSC is held every two years and is proceeded by a call for proposals, workshops and extensive committee deliberations. Committee meeting are held the first two days of the ISSC Biennial Meeting, proposals with committee recommendations are then debated by the Task Forces (I, II and III) and finally voted on by the General Assembly.

The following is a summary of significant proposals discussed, debated and/or voted on at the 2017 ISSC Biennial Meeting. You can find all associated materials on the ISSC website ( The NSSP Model Ordinance will not be changed until the ISSC receives concurrence from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This does not represent a complete list of all proposals considered.

Proposal 11-103 was originally submitted in 2011 and was eventually modified through committee work to allow the use of Male Specific Coliphage (MSC) for depuration harvests in growing areas impacted by Waste Water Treatment Plants and classified as Conditionally Restricted. Maine currently has a pilot project implementing these controls in the Royal River, Yarmouth.

Proposal 13-107 was originally submitted in 2013 and was intensely debated at the 2015 ISSC Biennial Meeting. In 2015, the committee was charged with rewriting the entire Aquaculture Chapter in the NSSP Model Ordinance. The revision approved at the most recent meeting included the requirement for state shellfish authorities to define a maximum seed size and requires seed grown in Prohibited waters be relayed to Approved waters four months before harvest (previously a six month relay was required).

Proposal 17-100 was refereed to committee and deals with the definition of a marina. FDA had recently cited other states in the northeast for not including mooring fields in their marina closures and both New York and Massachusetts submitted proposals to clarify that mooring fields are not marinas.

Proposals 17-200 and 17-225 were proposals submitted by the surf/quahog clam industry to address time and temperature requirements. 17-200 was voted down by the membership, but 17-225 was referred to committee and will be worked on before the 2019 Biennial Meeting.

There were several proposals to eliminate the Performance Based Inspection Program (17-202) which allows the state shellfish authority to reduce the number of required inspections for high performing dealers, and for unannounced inspection requirements (17-203, 17-214, 17-215). All were voted ought not to pass at Task Force II, but the Performance Based Inspection Program was eventually continued by the General Assembly. Maine does not currently employ the Performance Based Inspection Program.

Proposal 17-209 proposed adding a water temperature criteria into the Vibrio Control Plan matrix. This was referred to committee along with a related proposal for Vibrio vulnificus (17-207).

Proposal 17-213 will require all dealers to provide food safety training to all employees and retain records of completion. This was one of several proposals brought forth to align the NSSP with the new federal Food Code.

Proposal 17-216 requires new labeling indicating: This tag is required to be attached until container is empty or is retagged and thereafter kept on file in chronological order for 90 days. RETAILERS: Date when last shellfish from this container was sold or served ________________?

Another tagging requirement was changed through proposal 17-217 which requires all harvest tags to be removed and replaced with dealer tags prior to shipment.

Proposal 13-209 addressed resubmergance by requiring consideration of this practice in the Vibrio Control Plans. No definition of resubmergance was developed as different states use this term for a variety of activities.

There were also several significant proposals that were voted down at the meeting which would have caused major changes in the management of shellfish in Maine. If you have questions about any of the proposals or how the ISSC process works, please contact Kohl Kanwit at or 207-633-9535.

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Upcoming Events

Vibrio Training:

DMR Regulations Chapter 115: "Vibrio parahaemolyticus Control Plan" took effect January 2016. You can find a copy of the rule here:

This Regulation is intended to prevent Vibrio illness outbreaks related to the consumption of oysters and hard clams from the Damariscotta River and the New Meadows Lakes. Section 115.04(D) requires mandatory, annual training of harvesters and certified shellfish dealers who take or are the initial purchasers (primary dealers) of oysters or hard clams from the Damariscotta River and New Meadows Lakes.

DMR has scheduled 4 training sessions, of which all harvesters and primary buyers must attend one.

January 10th, 2018 at the West Bath Fire Department from 5:30-7:00 pm
January 11th, 2018 at the DMR facility at 194 McKown Point Rd, West Boothbay Harbor from 5:30-7pm
January 24th, 2018 at the West Bath Fire Department from 5:30-7pm
January 25th, 2018 at the DMR facility at 194 McKown Point Rd, West Boothbay Harbor from 5:30-7pm.

Please RSVP to Angel Wilson at or 207-633-9515. Walk-ins are also welcome. Attendance will be recorded and submitted to Marine Patrol.

Failure to participate in one of these sessions will make you ineligible to harvest or be the primary buyer of Damariscotta River oysters or New Meadows River Lakes oysters or hard clams from May-October 2018.

Fisherman's Forum Shellfish Focus Day:

March 1st, 2018 at the Samoset in Rockland, ME
Agenda will be sent out in February. The day will include segments on business innovation, effective co-management, direct from DMR, applied marine science and a happy hour listening session.

Shellfish Advisory Council Meeting:

March 14th, 2018 at the Ellsworth City Hall Auditorium from 10am-1pm

2018 Shellfish Warden Certification Training:

The Department of Marine Resources will be holding our annual municipal shellfish warden certification class on March 27 and 28 at the Hutchinson Center in Belfast from 8am-5pm each day. There are currently 42 wardens eligible for recertification, and 8 new wardens signed up to become certified.

Again this year, DMR has hired Mike Pinkham to lead the training. Mr. Pinkham is a former DMR Marine Patrol Officer and the current municipal shellfish warden for Gouldsboro and Steuben. He has over 35 years of experience enforcing marine resource laws and regulations. He served as a Marine Patrol officer for over 33 years, and the past three years as a Shellfish Warden. The in-person training is coupled with the online training component developed in 2013.

If there are any towns that currently are in need of a new shellfish warden, or have one that is planning to leave soon, please feel free to contact Angel Wilson who will be happy to walk you through the nomination process to add a prospective warden to the upcoming training.

For current and former shellfish wardens, please keep in mind that you may retain your certification even if you are not currently employed by a town.

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