Biotoxin causes recreational shellfish harvest closure

Published on Wed, May 22, 2013
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Whatcom County Health Department announced May 22 that unsafe levels of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) biotoxin have been detected in molluscan shellfish on some beaches in north Whatcom County. As a result, Washington State Department of Health has closed recreational shellfish harvest on beaches from Point Whitehorn north to the Canadian border, including Point Roberts.

Molluscan shellfish include clams, mussels, oysters and scallops. Mussels usually contain the highest toxin concentration. PSP and other naturally occurring biotoxins are not destroyed by cooking or freezing. Crab meat is not affected by PSP, but “crab butter” and crab entrails can harbor biotoxins and should be discarded. Shellfish sold in restaurants and markets have been tested before distribution and are safe to eat.

Algae that contain the toxins cannot be seen, and must be detected by laboratory testing. Therefore, always check the DOH website at or call the DOH Biotoxin Hotline at 800/562-5632 before harvesting shellfish anywhere in Washington State.

PSP intoxication can be life-threatening. Symptoms may appear within minutes or hours. PSP symptoms usually begin with tingling lips and tongue and may be followed by difficulty breathing and potentially death. If you experience these symptoms seek immediate medical attention. For extreme reactions call 911 right away.