The 4th of July weekend was a little different this year at Ipswich Clambake. Thanks to an outbreak of toxic algae known as red tide, the restaurant was unable to serve its signature seafood.
“We are proud to be able to serve our local clams because they are the best,” said Clambake owner Ken Siegel.
But suppliers like Siegel and others on the North Shore are breathing a slight sigh of relief this weekend after the state eased some of its restrictions on harvesting local clams in Essex. Harvest restrictions were implemented there — and along other areas of the state’s coastline — last month.
Red tide shellfish, also known as paralyzing shellfish poisoning, can cause illness or death in humans if eaten. It happens when algae grow out of control, producing toxins in their waters that are harmful to humans and animals. These toxins can accumulate in shellfish such as mussels, oysters and clams. As the name suggests, it can also turn surrounding water red.
Restrictions are put in place to stop shellfish harvesting in areas where high toxins are detected.
Siegel says when these restrictions are in place, he buys seafood from out of state, which impacts his pocketbook and that of his customers.
“It also raises the price of substitutes that we typically have to get in places like Maine, so that hurts everyone,” Siegel said.
He adds that gas prices and supply chain issues are also impacting his bottom line, and he expects that to continue.
Johanna Pechilis Aggelakis, owner of Ipswich’s Clam Box, also buys seafood from Maine when red tide restrictions are in place.
“They’re more expensive, they’re not as delicious – but they’re still very good,” Pechilis Aggelakis said. “Maine clams don’t have the mineral richness they have in Ipswich, so that’s the difference in flavor, but it really drives up the prices.”
Although restrictions have been partially lifted in parts of the North Coast, they remain in place on large swaths of the Massachusetts coast, including Gloucester and Cape Cod and Massachusetts bays. These should be left in place for a week to a month, at a minimum, until toxicity levels show signs of steadily declining.
If people want to buy local shellfish in affected areas, experts recommend buying from trusted sources until restrictions are lifted.