Shellfish ban includes entire bay


Elevated levels of a dangerous biotoxin have shut down all commercial shellfish harvest in Tomales Bay—this during the industry’s busiest time of year. After a recreational closure affecting the inner bay was announced on Dec. 13, the California Department of Public Health last Friday banned harvest from the outer portions of the bay. Spokesmen say the current high levels of paralytic shellfish poisoning, or PSP, toxins in Tomales and Monterey Bays—along with lower but still elevated levels along a stretch of Los Angeles County coast and in Humboldt Bay—are an inexplicable anomaly. (According to Terry Sawyer, a co-owner of Hog Island Oyster Company, a similar “red tide” event stopped commercial harvest two years ago in the late fall, but it quickly ended.) Several oyster farms and a small mussel farm are straining under the prolonged closure. “We’re all hurt,” said Tod Friend, who owns Tomales Bay Oyster Company. Mr. Friend is purchasing oysters from Washington State to feed the holiday hordes; nearby Drakes Bay Oyster Company, which he called a “godsend,” is also supplying thousands a week. For Mr. Sawyer, reserves are running out, forcing him to bring in shellfish from up the coast—at a significant cost. And, due to a combination of holiday laboratory closures and the conservative approach taken by the state public health department, he said he is being unnecessarily banned from harvesting in an area that is already showing lower levels. (Stepped-up sampling is showing a downward trend in the outer bay, Mr. Sawyer reported.) Meanwhile, kayak tour companies are banking on another unseasonable bloom of phytoplankton—the kind that produces bioluminescence—with Blue Waters Kayaking offering tours to view the underwater glow every evening from Dec. 27 through Dec. 30.