Massachusetts will be eligible for up to $2 million in federal disaster aid for shellfishing industries affected by this summer's red tide, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced yesterday. The announcement comes after the U.S. Commerce Department declared a commercial fishery failure on Friday.

"The assistance we are announcing today will help the states and their shellfish industries find long-term solutions to outbreaks of harmful algal blooms," said Jim Balsiger, acting NOAA assistant administrator for NOAA's Fisheries Service, in a statement. "We encourage the states to use this aid for scientific research to better understand the causes and improve monitoring of harmful algal blooms. Aid should also be used to find ways to minimize the economic effects of these outbreaks on the shellfish industry."

Maine is also eligible for $2 million in aid, and New Hampshire is eligible for $1 million. Each state will now submit plans to NOAA explaining how the money will be used. The plans need to be approved by NOAA before the money is distributed.

Gov. Deval Patrick's administration estimated that red tide closures of 600,000 acres of shellfish beds across the state led directly to a $1.5 million loss in economic activity and an additional $6 million in losses in related industries such as processing and retail.

Massachusetts banned harvesting shellfish, except for scallops, from Gloucester to the New Hampshire border on May 15 after testing showed dangerously high levels of the algae Alexandrium fundyense, which causes red tide and can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning in humans when consumed in large enough quantities.

The ban was lifted from Cape Ann shellfish beds on June 29, but clammers couldn't return to the flats until July 10 due to an 11-day rain closure.

While the shellfishing industry was hard-hit by the closures, it wasn't the worst-case scenario. This year scientists found enough algal seeds in the Gulf of Maine to produce a bloom 30 percent larger than the historic red tide of 2005. The 2005 red tide and resulting three-month closure was the worst since 1972 and caused an estimated $50 million in losses throughout the Gulf of Maine. However, conditions didn't lead to such a disruptive bloom.

After the 2005 red tide, Massachusetts received $2 million of a $5 million federal aid package that included assistance for Maine and New Hampshire, but the money wasn't distributed to fishermen until two years later. On average, shellfishermen each received $1,400 in aid, and the state took $100,000 of the total amount for administrative costs.

Trending Video

Recommended for you