North Whatcom beaches closed to shellfishing

The beaches from Sandy Point to Point Roberts are closed to shellfishing due to unsafe levels of biotoxins.

The closure order came from the Washington Department of Health (DOH) last week. The department detected unsafe levels of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) biotoxins in molluscan shellfish from the region. The beaches are closed to harvests of all species of clams, mussels, scallops and oysters, and even some smaller invertebrates such as moon snails.

PSP can lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and a numb sensation in arms, legs and toes. Symptoms can appear in as little as 10 minutes, and in extreme cases the poisoning can prove fatal.

Crab meat is not affected by PSP, but crab butter, the yellow crab entrails often served as a delicacy, can retain the biotoxin. PSP biotoxins cannot be destroyed by cooking or freezing.

The increase in biotoxins is a common occurrence. Each year, the increasing temperature in the waters off the coast leads to an increase in algal blooms, which produce PSP biotoxins.

The DOH will be monitoring for biotoxins on a weekly basis to determine when it is safe to harvest shellfish. Additionally, The Northern Light will publish regular updates about the biotoxin levels. Check the DOH website at, or call 1-800-562-5632 before harvesting.

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