June 15, 2009

Starfish numbers up in New England

Large numbers of starfish have been showing up in southern New England this year, blanketing the seafloor and washing up on beaches, observers say.

The five-armed starfish, also known as sea stars and not actually fish, have been little studied, mostly because they have no economic value. So scientists are unsure if the boost in numbers are a cyclical phenomenon or sign of a long-term trend, The Boston Globe reported Monday.

Peter Melanson, owner of the Sakonnet Oyster Co. in Little Compton, R.I., has his own theory.

They are multiplying like no one's business, he said. They smell all the shellfish ... it drives them crazy.

A starfish fastens itself to clams, oysters and other shellfish, uses its arms to pry open the shells and then pushes its stomach from its mouth into the shell's interior. Digestive juices dissolve the shellfish.

It is totally disgusting to see, said Robert Rheault, head of the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association.

Melanson says the starfish resurgence could be a sign of improving water quality.

There is more of everything now, he said. You could see it as a win-win situation.