This news release is from the Washington State Department of Health. All areas are closed for the sport harvest of scallops. Totten and Eld Inlets are now on the list of closures, for oysters, in addition to scallops.
OLYMPIA – In the past week, an alarming number of Washington marine waters have reached dangerously high levels of marine biotoxins that cause paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP). These conditions have prompted additional shellfish harvest closures. PSP tests have revealed 16 locations that tested more than1,000 micrograms of toxin in the last week.
By far, the most dramatic level of toxin was detected at Port Ludlow in Jefferson County at almost 10,000 micrograms in mussels. The Food and Drug Administration’s level for closure, which the agency follows, is 80 micrograms. Oak Bay and Mats Mats Bay, just north of Port Ludlow had test results in the 1,400 to 1,500 microgram range.
The intensity of this bloom has surpassed the central Puget Sound bloom of last week, which is still going strong with 10 locations testing dangerously higher than the FDA action levels for toxins. The high toxin levels have been detected in a variety of shellfish species including blue mussels, manila clams, butter clams, pacific oysters and geoduck clams. New blooms have closed Discovery Bay in Clallam and Jefferson Counties and Port Gamble in Kitsap County.
Without an abrupt change in weather conditions more closures are expected in the days to come. Alexandrium, the algae that causes PSP grows rapidly when sunny and calm conditions persist over Puget Sound, which contributes to a stratified water column. Stormy conditions with strong winds will break up the stratification and help end the bloom.
Recreational shellfish harvesters must be very careful to only harvest on beaches listed as safe by the Department of Health. Commercially harvested shellfish currently on the market have been thoroughly tested and should be safe to eat.
Warning signs have been posted at high use beaches warning people not to collect shellfish from the closed areas. The closure includes clams, oysters, mussels, scallops, geoduck 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.
People can become ill from eating shellfish contaminated with the toxin. Marine biotoxins are not destroyed by cooking or freezing and can be life-threatening. Symptoms of PSP can appear within minutes or hours and usually begins with tingling lips and tongue, moving to the hands and feet followed by difficulty breathing, and potentially death. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek emergency medical help immediately.
The toxin is produced by naturally occurring algae that tend to be more common during the warmer months of the year. In most cases the algae that contain the toxins cannot be seen, and must be detected through laboratory testing. Recreational shellfish harvesters should check the Department of Health marine biotoxin Web site (www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/sf/biotoxin.htm) or call the agency Biotoxin Hotline at 1-800-562-5632 before harvesting shellfish anywhere in Washington.
Editors note: Marine biotoxin closures are separate from the current closures for oysters due to Vibrio parahaemolyticus. More than 100 people have been sickened with vibriosis from eating contaminated raw oysters. For more information on those closures, call the hotline at 1-800-562-5632 or check the marine biotoxin Web site (www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/sf/biotoxin.htm).