Paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) biotoxin levels have dropped in butter clams in some south Whatcom beaches. In response, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) has modified the recreational biotoxin closure for Bellingham Bay and Chuckanut Bay. Bellingham Bay and Chuckanut Bay beaches are now closed to the harvest of varnish clams only. Other south Whatcom beaches, including all of Larrabee State Park, remain closed to the harvest of both butter and varnish clams.
Biotoxin levels can change rapidly. Shellfish harvesters are advised to “Know Before You Dig.” Always check for current biotoxin and pollution closures at the DOH website: https://fortress.wa.gov/doh/biotoxin/biotoxin.html or call the DOH Biotoxin Hotline at 1-800-562-5632 before harvesting shellfish anywhere in Washington State.
Whatcom County Health and Community Services will continue to monitor biotoxins in molluscan shellfish. We will notify the public when there is a change in biotoxin levels that may affect public health.
Shellfish sold in restaurants and retail markets have been tested before distribution and are safe to eat.
Crab meat is not affected, but “crab butter” and crab entrails can harbor biotoxins so they should always be discarded. Molluscan shellfish include clams, mussels, oysters and scallops. Algae that contain marine biotoxins cannot be seen and must be detected by laboratory testing. During a biotoxin event, mussels and varnish clams usually contain the highest toxin concentration. PSP and other naturally occurring biotoxins are not destroyed by cooking or freezing.
PSP biotoxin can cause severe illness and death. Symptoms include numbness and tingling of lips and tongue, which may begin within minutes of eating toxic shellfish or may take an hour or two to develop. Symptoms may progress to tingling of fingers and toes and then loss of control of arms and legs, followed by difficulty in breathing. Some people feel nauseous or experience a sense of floating. If a person consumes enough toxin, the chest and abdomen muscles become paralyzed, including muscles used for breathing, and the victim can suffocate. Death from Paralytic Shellfish Poison has occurred in less than 30 minutes.