Washington State Department of Health (DOH) closed recreation shellfish harvesting on all Whatcom County beaches May 3 after unsafe levels of paralytic shellfish poison (PSP) were found in local waters.
Recreational shellfish harvesting last closed in north Whatcom County in October 2022, which closed recreational harvesting on all county beaches as south Whatcom County was already closed. It reopened a couple of weeks later. Last year, the recreational beaches were also closed from spring to mid-August.
Commercial shellfish in markets and restaurants, like Drayton Harbor Oyster Company, are safe to eat because they are tested, according to DOH.
Drayton Harbor Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Hunters founder Rick Beauregard told The Northern Light in an email that the monitoring group found Alexandrium, algae that produces toxins that cause PSP, in its samples from Birch Bay and Drayton Harbor on May 2. The HAB hunters notified the state of their finding May 3 and recreational shellfish harvesting was closed shortly after.
This closure includes Point Roberts as well.
PSP is a naturally occurring marine biotoxin produced by some species of microscopic algae, according to DOH. Molluscan shellfish, which includes clams, mussels, oysters and scallops, eat the algae and can retain the toxin, but can cause severe illness and death in humans. Cooking or freezing shellfish does not destroy the PSP biotoxin. Symptoms occur within a few minutes to a couple of hours after ingestion and include numbness and tingling of lips and tongue. Tingling can spread to fingers and toes, and poisoned individuals can lose control of arms and legs followed by difficulty breathing.
DOH and the HAB hunters will continue to monitor shellfish biotoxin levels. DOH will notify the public when recreational shellfish harvesting is safe again in county waters through its website at bit.ly/3B8ycRW.
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