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Red Tide Exacting Costly Toll On Coast

October 19, 1986

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) _ A toxic red tide sweeping the Texas Gulf coast is littering beaches with mounds of rotting fish and threatening the livelihood of those who depend on seafood and tourism.

″We can’t sell because the public is scared,″ Corpus Christi fisherman Gabriel Bodukoglu said. ″When I don’t make money, I get angry. I have to eat.″

Red tide, a concentration of toxic microscopic organisms, has killed millions of fish since mid-September along a coastal stretch of hundreds of miles from Matagorda Bay to the Rio Grande.

The Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife Marine Laboratory said the red tide was stronger than ever last week and showed signs of resurgence in areas where it had retreated.

Officials have closed some beaches, including those near Corpus Christi and Padre Island, while surgically masked crews have been cleaning shores.

Nervous tourists and consumers are abandoning the beaches and fish markets in droves, businessmen and commercial fishermen say.

Bodukoglu said business is down 90 percent, and other residents interviewed last week had similar tales.

Bruce Phillips, who hawks fresh shrimp at Corpus Christi Bay, said he makes few sales these days.

″I’ve made $3 today,″ said fisherman Jay Paul.

The red tide is wiping out sales toward the end of the season, hitting budgets hard, shrimpers said. The toxin does not affect shrimp or crabs so businesses could operate if only the tourists were there.

Any fish still healthy when caught also is safe to eat, according to state health and wildlife officials.

But oysters, clams and mussels filter the toxin and retain it in their systems for weeks, creating a health hazard if eaten.

State officials have closed the oyster beds from south of Galveston Bay to the Rio Grande, and a prolonged prohibition could sink many oyster operations. The oyster season begins Nov. 1.

″We depend on oysters for Christmas money,″ said Benny Arispe, a shrimp and oyster fisherman near Rockport. ″We oyster from the first of November. What are we going to do?″

″It’s all over (the) bay, dead fish stinking,″ Charles Ives of Aransas Pass said. ″I’m 52, born and raised right in this town. I’ve never seen it (this bad).″

Red tide is the name given to an explosion of microscopic organisms that produce a toxin that suffocates fish when it reaches high concentrations.

When the toxin becomes airborne, it can sting the eyes, irritate noses and produce coughing or sneezing, health officials said. But the toxin is not a danger to people unless someone has an acute allergy to it, the officials said.

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