Most beaches in Whatcom County reopen for shellfish harvesting

After a year of closures, most Whatcom County beaches are now safe for shellfish harvesting.

According to the Whatcom County Health Department, biotoxin levels have dropped in nearly all Whatcom County shellfishing areas, making the clams, mussels, oysters and scallops safe for harvesting. The only exception is Portage Island, which still has a moratorium in place on the harvesting of varnish clams.

Whatcom shellfish harvesting areas were shut down and reopened several times this year, due to the levels of PSP and DSP biotoxins. PSP, or paralytic Shellfish_SG-1shellfish poisoning, can cause paralysis and is potentially life threatening. Nine cases of PSP poisoning were reported in Washington in 2012.

The state has monitored for PSP biotoxins for years, but DSP, or diarrheic shellfish poisoning, is still relatively new in Washington state.

The state began monitoring for DSP biotoxins in 2011, after several people came down with flu-like symptoms associated with DSP poisoning. Increased levels in DSP led to countywide beach shutdowns throughout the summer.

Biotoxins receded to safe levels in August, but rose again during an algal bloom in late September.

Tom Kunesh, environmental health supervisor for the department of health, said this pattern is consistent with previous years.

Cooking or freezing cannot destroy PSP and DSP biotoxins. They usually appear in the highest concentration in mussels. Crab meat is unaffected, but crab butter, the yellowish crab entrails sometimes considered a delicacy, can harbor the biotoxins.

Call the Washington State Department of Health biotoxin hotline at 800/562-5632 before harvesting.

For more information, visit doh.wa.gov/ehp/sf/biotoxin.html.

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