Lethal toxin prompts closures of beaches to shellfish harvesting

Fort Flagler, Mystery Bay and Kilisut Harbor affected

PORT TOWNSEND — Lethal concentrations of a nerve biotoxin deadly for both humans and animals found in shellfish samples have prompted the closure of Fort Flagler, Mystery Bay and Kilisut Harbor beaches to recreational shellfish harvest for all species.

The biotoxin found in the shellfish causes paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), which can be fatal.

The Mystery Bay sample result was 991 micrograms of toxin, which is more than 10 times above the action level of 80 micrograms, said Michael Dawson, water quality manager for the Jefferson County Public Health.

The Fort Flagler sample was more than three times the action level, he said.

The state Department of Health closed the beaches and the county posted danger signs at public access points warning people not to consume shellfish from the area.

The closure extends to clams, oysters, mussels, scallops and other species of molluscan shellfish.

Shellfish harvested commercially are tested for toxin prior to distribution and should be safe to eat.

Oak Bay, Port Ludlow and Mats Mats Bay in East Jefferson were closed at the end of August to shellfish harvesting of butter and varnish clams because of the danger of PSP. Such clams can hold onto toxins for more than a year.

Discovery Bay and all Clallam County beaches on the Strait of Juan de Fuca also are closed to harvest of all species of shellfish.

Ocean beaches are closed for the season.

PSP is caused by eating shellfish contaminated with toxins from the naturally occurring marine plankton Alexandrium. 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 paralysis.

Anyone experiencing any of these symptoms after consuming shellfish should contact a health care provider immediately. For extreme reactions call 911.

A raw shellfish advisory is in effect for all of Hood Canal because of Vibrio bacteria. During the warmer months, the naturally occurring Vibrio bacteria within shellfish is a concern. The public should cook shellfish from Hood Canal to 145 degrees internal temperature for 15 seconds.

The DOH Shellfish Safety Map has up-to-date information for recreational shellfish harvesting at www.doh.wa.gov/ShellfishSafety.htm.

Recreational harvesters should also check Fish and Wildlife regulations and seasons at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish or the Shellfish Rule Change Hotline 1-866-880-5431.

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