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Poisonous algae bloom sparks ban on shellfish harvesting near Victoria

If the contaminated shellfish are eaten by humans there could be fatal side effects
Noctiluca scintillans, also known as red tide algae blooms, were spotted midway along the Patricia Bay beach walking path in North Saanich. (Photo of Courtesy of Frank Towler)

The harvesting of butter calms, mussels, pink scallops, oysters and all bivalve shellfish has been prohibited across multiple areas of Greater Victoria’s coast. The ban has been placed due to red tide paralytic shellfish poison (PSP) algal blooms appearing in the water.

The PSP is not harmful to humans through skin contact, but if consumed by a person the side effects could be fatal. Don’t try cooking the shellfish as that does not remove all the biotoxins.

The species of the poisonous red tide algal bloom is not to be confused with the red tide algae bloom species Noctiluca scintillans. Although Noctiluca scintillans is known for its alarming, rusty red colour, it is not harmful to people or shellfish, but this species of algae can clog the gills of fish species and cause them to suffocate. The red-orange colour is due to millions of microorganisms discolouring the water.

According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), Noctiluca scintillans is caused by warmer temperatures, salinity, up welling and wind. The blooms usually occur from May to September, but climate change and higher extreme temperatures have made them more prevalent, popping up even during the winter months. Warm air and an ocean climate can create a welcoming environment for toxic blooms. While this Noctiluca scintillans is not harmful, there could potentially be multiple species of algae in the area that are.

Other surrounding areas that have been closed off from harvesting include, but are not limited to, Salt Spring Island, Mayne Island, Pender Island, Saturna Island, Sidney and Victoria. The DFO has not said when the ban will be lifted, but it could greatly impact business for fisheries, bivalve shellfish farms, seafood restaurants and individuals or organizations who harvest shellfish.

For a map of the restricted areas visit:

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About the Author: Ella Matte

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