BREAKING NEWS: Biotoxins close local beaches to shellfish harvesting

Published on Fri, May 6, 2011 by Tara Nelson

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Marine biotoxins that cause paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) have been detected at dangerously high levels in shellfish samples collected from northern Whatcom County beaches, health department officials reported Friday.  As a result, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) has issued an emergency shellfish closure of all beaches from Sandy Point north to the Canadian border, including Point Roberts, until further notice.


The Whatcom County health department will continue to test local beaches and will notify the public when shellfish are safe to harvest again. Commercially harvested shellfish are sampled at the time of harvest and shellfish in local markets are safe to eat.


The closure includes clams, oysters, mussels, scallops, geoducks and other species of molluscan shellfish. Crab is not included in the closure, but the crab butter should be discarded, and only the meat should be eaten.  PSP biotoxins are naturally occurring and are not destroyed by cooking or freezing. People can become ill after eating shellfish contaminated with the toxins produced by naturally occurring marine algae.


PSP intoxication can be life-threatening.  Symptoms of PSP can appear within minutes or hours and usually begin with tingling lips and tongue, moving to the hands and feet followed by difficulty breathing, and potentially death.  If you experience these symptoms contact a health care provider.


In most cases the algae that contain the toxins cannot be seen, and must be detected using laboratory testing.


Recreational shellfish harvesters should check the DOH website at or call the DOH Biotoxin Hotline at 800/562-5632 before harvesting shellfish anywhere in Washington state.