HOUSTON -- Due to a curb on harvesting, seafood retailers have little cause for concern over an outbreak of toxic "red tide" along the Gulf Coast, according to health officials here.
according to Jeff Kirkpatrick, a spokesman from the Texas Department of Health.
But this recent outbreak has rapidly expanded, to the point where it now stretches from Matagorda Bay to the Rio Grande. That constitutes roughly two-thirds of the Texas Gulf Coast.
"We are testing oysters in a lot of these areas and getting back results that show that they are affected," Kirkpatrick said.
"Where we are now, is that the oyster season opens Nov. 1, and we're having a pretty good cold front coming through, so that could take care of the red tide somewhat. From an optimistic point of view, if the red tide did disperse and die off after the cold front, it could be a month or two, maybe longer, before [the harvest season returned to normal].
"We'd have to sample, it's going to take the oysters a while to purge their bodies of this toxin. Once we get the test results back and they're good, they'll get on the market again. Certainly some of the productivity is going to be lost.
"As far as commercial damage, it'll take its toll because all of the season's not going to be open. But just how much of it's going to be closed, it's too early to tell."
Although crustaceans and small finfish can be affected by the toxin, it is only mollusks such as oysters and clams that are rendered unfit for human consumption.
"Shrimp could be affected by the toxins but it won't get transferred to humans, because in shrimp the affected area is in the head, and that's not a part that humans eat.
"It doesn't kill the oysters, because they have such a primitive body structure, but they're filter feeders and they accumulate these toxins and even digest them, so it gets spread throughout the oyster."
The toxin does not decompose, and is not usually fatal to humans, he added, but it can cause nausea and dizzy spells.
There is no way to contain the toxin, he added. "There's no prediction of this thing. If it rained a lot and colder air came through, it may be gone, or it could go farther into the Gulf and work its way into the Galveston Bay system. As of right now, the Gal-veston Bay system has not been affected by red tide at all, so the season is going to open there."