PORTLAND (AP) – The largest red tide to hit Maine in three years is being blamed for a shellfishing shutdown.

More than two-thirds of the coast is effected by the closure, which was announced by state officials Friday.

The severe red tide is making some shellfish species dangerously toxic, and residents are being advised to call their local marine patrol officer before harvesting to make sure it’s safe.

The toxin found in the algae blooms known as red tides is among the most dangerous found in nature. At high levels red tide causes numbness, tingling, dizziness, nausea and may be fatal.

The levels measured along the Maine coast right now are higher than they have been since the 1970s, said Amy Fitzpatrick, director of the public health division at the Maine Department of Marine Resources.

“This is not to the point that you will feel funny and get tingly lips,” she said. “It’s to the point where you are going to be hooked up to a respirator – if you can get to a hospital fast enough.”

Closures are mostly offshore, and mostly affect commercial mussel harvesters, harvesters working the ends of peninsulas, and boats taking mahogany quahogs, Fitzpatrick said.

The red tide that closed a third of the coastline in 2000 was the largest to hit the state in a decade, but this closure surpasses that.

Red tide closures typically last between several days to a couple of weeks.

There are eight red tide closures for mussels, carnivorous whelks and carnivorous snails, including one from Flying Point in Freeport to Small Point in Phippsburg, and one from the Maine-New Hampshire border to Biddeford Pool.

There are four closures for softshell clams, oysters, and surf or hen clams, including from Flying Point in Freeport to Small Point in Phippsburg and from Friendship to Owls Head in Rockland.

Red tide does not affect lobsters, shrimp, crabs, finfish or periwinkles.

Fitzpatrick said consumers need not worry about the safety of mussels sold at fish markets and restaurants. Mussel farmers test their product regularly.

AP-ES-10-04-03 1219EDT

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