SHELLFISH along the Dorset coast has been found to contain traces of a potentially deadly toxin.
But fishermen are urging the public not to worry despite a major supermarket taking Dorset shellfish off the shelves.
The Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP) toxin has been found to affect scallops and mussels and Portland Harbour has been issued with a closure notice for the harvesting of filter feeding molluscs. The closure does not include The Fleet oyster beds.
Routine testing of scallops has indicated the presence of toxin in the algae in quantities which present a risk to health.
But fishermen are hoping the scare will soon be over, despite a supermarket chain pulling its orders for local shellfish from a West Dorset company.
Fish merchant Samways, based in Bridport, has confirmed to the Echo that an unnamed supermarket has put a stop on orders for a week and is 'waiting to see what happens.'
Samways export manager Vitoldas Balciunas (CORR) said: “We have lost trade; a supermarket is concerned because they deal directly with the public. They have stopped our orders for a week to see what's going to happen.”
But he advised consumers not to worry as every batch is tested and levels of ASP are low.
He added: “We are testing every single batch before selling it. We just had a new sample on Monday, we checked two local boats and the level was a lot lower than the legal standard, but we are still testing every single landing.”
Scallop diver John Warswick called the situation 'annoying' but said the level of ASP is 'receding rapidly' and it will be business as usual soon.
The concern follows the growth of an algal bloom extending up the English Channel.
Mr Warswick added: “In spring there is a plankton bloom, and then it is gone for the year. The water will be getting clearer every day; it peaked late last week and now is receding rapidly.
“I wouldn't worry about it at these levels.”
Andy Alcock, secretary of the Weymouth and Portland Licensed Fishermen's and Boatmen's Association said latest tests show there is nothing to worry about.
He added: “It's because of the extra-warm weather we had in winter.
“Consequently at the fist bit of sunlight there seems to have been an algal bloom.
“The last one we had was about 10 years ago. It's just inconvenient.
“The toxin is at a very low level. I think this is just a precaution so that nobody can say 'you should have told us.'
“As far as I know it hasn't caused too much hindrance for people.”
ASP can cause neurological symptoms such as dizziness, confusion and weakness if consumed in sufficient quantity.
Chris Wason, vice-chairman of the South West Inshore Scallopers Association, said: “It can be quite bad for us because when people hear about these things they may get put off.
“But the scallops are okay; it just means we can't sell direct at the moment.
“The toxin is in the black bag which is the waste matter and once that is removed, the toxin is gone.
“They are going through a testing process so I would tell people not to worry too much.”
Nigel Emery, Weymouth Port Health Authority chief port health officer apologised for inconvenience to businesses and asked them to comply with safeguards whilst investigations continue.
Anyone with questions should contact Weymouth Port Health Authority on 01305 838432 or email Porthealth@weymouth.gov.uk