July 19, 2008

Lobster Eaters Urged to Avoid Tomalley After Some Test Positive for Red Tide Toxins

By Kevin Miller, Bangor Daily News, Maine

Jul. 18--State health and fisheries officials are urging lobster eaters to avoid the green, gooey innards known as the tomalley due to risks of shellfish poisoning.

Health officials have for years advised against eating the tomalley, the lobster liver regarded as a delicacy by some. The Maine Center for Disease Control reiterated its advisory Friday, however, after some lobster livers tested positive for high levels of toxins caused by large blooms of red tide algae.

But health and fisheries officials stress that the advisory applies only to the lobster tomalley, not the meat.

"Lobster meat is very safe to eat," said Dr. Dora Ann Mills, director of the Maine CDC.

"We ran some tests on meat to make sure just in case people ask, 'How do you know?' and the meat was perfectly clean," added Darcie Couture, who heads the Maine Department of Marine Resources' biotoxin monitoring program.

Harvesting of mussels, clams and other shellfish has been prohibited along some areas of the Maine coast in recent weeks because of dangerous levels of the naturally occurring algae. Eating shellfish contaminated by red tide can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning, an illness that can result in death.

Maine's DMR has an extensive monitoring program that ensures that all Maine shellfish sold on the commercial market by certified dealers comes from areas deemed safe for harvesting. Red tide toxins were found in lobster tomalleys during the last widespread bloom in 2005 but did not reach toxic levels.

Couture said not all of the lobster tomalleys from the six sampling areas tested in recent days had high levels of red tide. DMR is expanding its monitoring and hopes to develop a better understanding of why some lobsters' livers are testing so high.

"It's a little bit of a mystery to us, but we are working on it," Couture said.


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