Thousands of pounds of Maine mussels recalled because of concern about potential contamination from a marine biotoxin were distributed as far away as Georgia and Missouri before being recovered and destroyed.

Almost 58,500 pounds of mussels harvested near Mount Desert Island were subject to the recall, initiated last Friday, of which 38 pounds sold to retail establishments remain unaccounted for in Maine.

Five Maine seafood dealers affected by the recall were able to recover 98 percent of the suspect mussels within three days, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources. The department called for a recall after testing found elevated levels of the neurotoxin domoic acid in mussels.

Domoic acid is produced by a bloom of Pseudo-nitszchia, a phytoplankton found in Maine waters. The toxin may cause amnesic shellfish poisoning, which can make humans ill if ingested and, in extreme instances, cause paralysis or death.

In response to the harmful bloom, the department put a precautionary ban on about a third of Maine’s coastline from Mount Desert Island to Calais. On Wednesday, the DMR reopened some harvesting areas after determining there was no biotoxin risk.

The recall was for mussels harvested in Frenchman Bay between Mount Desert Island and the mainland from Sept. 10 to 14. Possibly contaminated mussels were distributed in 10 states: Georgia, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. The vast majority of recalled mussels were sold to wholesale dealers and were not yet distributed to retail businesses, said DMR spokesman Jeff Nichols.

About 38,905 pounds of mussels, or 66 percent of the total, were recovered in Maine, according to figures released by the department Wednesday. Only 240 pounds were sold to stores or restaurants and 38 pounds are unaccounted for, Nichols said. The department did not immediately respond to an inquiry about where the missing mussels may have been sold.

The department announced a ban on harvesting clams, mussels, oysters and whelks in Down East areas a week ago in response to the toxic Pseudo-nitzschia bloom. It later extended a harvesting ban to parts of the Penobscot River and Cobscook Bay.

On Wednesday, the department decided there was no risk from the biotoxin and reopened those areas. There is still a ban on harvesting clams, mussels, oysters and whelks between the southwest point of Mount Desert Island and Cranberry Point in Gouldsboro, and around Eastport and Lubec at the easternmost tip of the state. A precautionary ban on harvesting mussels, European oysters and surf clams is still in place for some sections of coastline between Gouldsboro and Lubec, and around Vinalhaven, Isle Au Haut and Swan’s Island.

Symptoms of amnesic shellfish poisoning include gastrointestinal upset, headache, confusion, dizziness, disorientation and memory loss. Symptoms begin within 24 hours of eating contaminated shellfish, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Tainted shellfish looks, smells and tastes normal and cooking will not kill the toxin.

As of this week, the department’s health division had not received any reports of people sickened by the mussels.

Staff Writer Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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