In the past several weeks there has been a developing red tide bloom (caused by the dinoflagellate Karenia brevis) off the coastlines of Sarasota, Charlotte, and Lee Counties. Fish kills have been reported in association with the bloom offshore and along the shoreline particularly in Charlotte and Lee Counties. While K. brevis has not been detected in water quality samples taken from Collier County waters, these events tend to generate a flurry of concerns about the safety of eating seafood harvested from affected waters.
Fortunately finfish caught in or near affected areas are safe to eat, if they are caught live and filleted. Eating fish that are dead or dying is strongly discouraged as the exact cause of death or illness cannot be known for sure. Crabs and shrimp are also okay to eat because the toxins produced by K. brevis are not absorbed into the edible tissues of these animals (so all you stone crab fans out there can continue enjoying your meals).
However, it is not safe to eat bivalves (clams, mussels or oysters) from areas with red tide. These type of organisms are filter feeders and can filter the toxins given off by K. brevis into the their tissues. These toxins in turn, can pose a health risk to consumers. The State of Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACs) close shellfish beds in red tide areas quickly and will not reopen them until the shellfish are safe to eat. To check the status of regional shellfish beds visit: http://shellfish.floridaaquaculture.com/seas/seas_statusmap.htm
Another resource concerned citizens can use is the Florida Wildlife Research Institute Red Tide Status Line. Callers can call (866) 300-9399 (toll-free inside Florida only); or (727) 552-2448 (outside Florida) to hear a recording detailing red tide conditions throughout the state. FWRI updates the recording each Friday by 5 p.m. after sampling efforts for the week have been completed and analyzed. To learn more visit: http://myfwc.com/research/redtide/events/status/statewide/