Born in Bozeman, Montana, John received a degree in Biology (Botany) from Montana State College in 1949 and traveled east where in 1951 he began employment at the then State of Maine Department of Sea and Shore Fisheries.

Professional Career

Upon joining the Maine Department of Sea and Shore Fisheries (now Department of Marine Resources), John immediately became involved with shellfish research at what was in those days known as “the hatchery”, working on problems related to quahogs, soft-shell clams, depuration, and even lobster disease and mortality. When shellfish poisoning due to Alexandrium tamarense made its debut in New Brunswick in the late 1950s, tests in waters down east in Maine showed the presence of PSP. John was tapped to begin a monitoring program for PSP in Maine waters. In 1958, he began the State of Maine’s “monster” PSP monitoring program. On January 18, 2002, John recorded 50 years of employment with the State of Maine. How does one work for one agency for 50 years? John has a survival philosophy: “If you want to do it, just do it! - If you don’t, ask permission!”.


2002 Award for Service to Harmful Algal Bloom Science at HAB10 in Florida. In 2001 during ceremonies held at Aquaculture 01 in Orlando, Florida, John received the David Wallace Award for outstanding contributions to industry, one of the National Shellfisheries Association’s two highest honors. John has served twice as president of the Northeast Shellfish Sanitation Association and has received many awards, most notably the 1991 US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner’s Special Citation, Maine State Scientist of the Year, and citations from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, from the Maine legislature, and from the Governor of Maine.

Key contributions

The PSP monitoring program being used in Maine today is a testament to John’s years of experience and knowledge of this highly unpredictable public health issue. It is often cited by the US Food and Drug Administration as one of the best PSP monitoring programs in the world. This shellfish toxin monitoring program serves as the “gold standard” for other developing programs. The monitoring program is one of the most extensive and comprehensive in the world, and assays are run on some 4000 shellfish samples annually—that’s over a half million mice in 50 years! John is especially proud of the fact that there have been no cases of PSP in the State of Maine as a result of commercially harvested shellfish during his tenure.

John is a walking gold mine of information, and his phone rings constantly with calls from scientists, fishermen, public health officials from other regions (both state and federal), and concerned citizens. He treats them all the same. While he may at times appear gruff, he has a deep and unshakable concern for both public safety and the shellfish industry and a genuine desire to help people. He is highly respected by scientists and serves as a walking encyclopedia for researchers. John works tirelessly, sometimes for up to 18 hours a day for 10 days straight in the summer, not only to ensure public health safety, but also to help the shellfish diggers maintain their livelihood by recommending closures of shellfish harvest areas. John continues to pursue knowledge of new toxins as well as the old stand-by (PSP) and stays in close contact with his network of scientists and friends in neighboring states and foreign countries. Recently dubbed ‘the grandfather of red tide’, it seems only fitting that a man who has killed over a half million mice in the name of science should be officially recognized in the land of Mickey! In his late seventies now and still sporting his red suspenders, John shows no signs of stopping — lucky for us!

Notable collaborators

Laurie Bean, Sandra E. Shumway, Clarice Yentsch.

Key publications

Bean, LL, McGowan, JD, Hurst, JW. 2005. Annual variations of paralytic shellfish poisoning in Maine, USA 1997-2001. Deep-Sea Research Part II-Topical Studies in Oceanography 52, 2834-2842.

Maranda, L, Keller, MD, Hurst, JW, Bean, LL, McGowan, JD, Hargraves, PE. 2000. Spatio-temporal distribution of Procentrum lima in coastal waters of the Gulf of Maine: A two-year survey. J. Shellfish Res, 19, 1003-1006.

Morton, SL; Leighfield, TA; Haynes, BL; Petitpain, DL; Busman, MA; Moeller, PDR; Bean, L; McGowan, J; Hurst, JW; Van Dolah, FM. 1999.Evidence of diarrhetic shellfish poisoning along the coast of Maine. J. Shellfish Res,18: 681-686.

Shumway, SE., Sherman-Caswell, S., Hurst JW 1988. Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning in Maine: Monitoring a monster. J. Shellfish Res. 7:643-652.

Thayer, PE, Hurst, JW; Lewis, CM; Selvin, R; Yentsch, CM. 1983. Distribution of resting cysts of Gonyaulax tamarensis var.excavata resting cysts and shellfish toxicity. Can J Fish Aquat. Sc. 40, 1308-1314.

Hurst, JW, Yentsch, CM. 1981. Patterns of intoxication of shellfish in the Gulf of Maine coastal waters. Can J. Fish Aquatic Sc. 38, 152-156.

Blogoslawski , WJ; Stewart, ME; Hurst, JW, Kern, FG 1979.Ozone detoxification of Paralytic Shellfish Poison in the softshell clam (Mya arenaria). Toxicon 17, 650-654.

(Based on: S.Shumway 2004. In: K.A. Steidinger et al. (eds). 2004. Proc. 10th Int.Conf. Harmful Algae, Florida, p.565.)