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Shellfishing on hold after toxin found

The state has temporarily shut down shellfishing in western Shinnecock Bay after a potentially lethal toxin was found in mussels there.

Saxitoxin -- a neurotoxin produced by a tiny marine organism known as Alexandrium -- was first detected in waters off Northport and Huntington in 2006.

Clams, mussels and oysters ingest the poison through filter-feeding. It can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning in humans who ingest tainted tissue.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation on Friday closed 3,900 acres of shellfish beds west of the Ponquogue Bridge and east of Post Lane Bridge in Quogue until further notice. Commercial and recreational fishermen harvest clams, mussels and oysters there, DEC officials said.

Small amounts of Alexandrium have also been found periodically in other spots along the North Shore. To check for the poison, the DEC monitors toxin levels in mesh bags of mussels hung from floating docks at 13 spots around Long Island.

The high Alexandrium cell counts in Shinnecock Bay, where the DEC does not have a monitoring site, were detected by Stony Brook University researchers. The DEC shut down the area after testing native mussels there for saxitoxin.

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