Galveston Bay Closed to Shellfish Harvesting Due to Dinophysis

The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of other things. Not because we want to go and eat all the oysters up, à la Lewis Carroll, but because right now is decidedly not the best time to go oystering in Galveston Bay.

As of Thursday, parts of Galveston Bay will be closed to oystering due to the presence of dinophysis detected in the waters, Texas Parks and Wildlife Coastal ecologist Alex Nunez said. Dinophysis has been linked to the toxin okadaic acid, which is responsible for the toxic syndrome diarrhetic shellfish poisoning, he said.

Dinophysis is a lot like red tide algae, another toxic bloom that makes people sick. However, red tide tends to appear in the summer and fall when bay waters are warm and salty, while dinophysis will occasionally show up around this time of year.

A lot of factors contribute to dinophysis appearing in the water, Nunez said. "The whole situation right now was just favorable to the bloom -- the proper water temperature, the proper nutrients were there, and this is the time of year when we can expect that if the conditions are right," Nunez said.

Oystering started in Nov. 1 and runs through April 30. The people who work at oystering thus only have six months to make their living, and Galveston Bay, even after the devastation of Hurricane Ike, still has some of the biggest oyster reefs along the Texas coast, meaning the people who have worked on these reefs harvesting for generations will have to find someplace else to oyster or sit and lose money each day the reefs are closed.

According to Nunez it's unclear when the reefs will be reopened, because there's no predicting the conditions. A change in the weather could change the water temperature enough to make conditions less dinophysis-friendly, or some plankton with a taste for dinophysis could show up and clear all of the algae bloom out, he said. The Texas Department of State Health Services officials are conducting water tests and will reopen the bays as soon as the tests show the water is clear, he said. In the meantime, all they can do is wait.

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