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Toxin closes shellfish harvest

The Washington Department of Health has closed many beaches in Clallam County for recreational shellfish harvesting. Paralytic Shellfish Poison (PSP) was detected at dangerously high concentrations in samples collected from coastal beaches, the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Clallam County, and throughout Whatcom County.

Recreational harvest is closed when PSP levels reach 80 micrograms per 100 grams of shellfish tissue; testing in some areas revealed levels of more than 3,000 micrograms. It's unsafe to collect and eat recreational shellfish from these areas.

• Ocean beaches - all species of shellfish

• The Strait of Juan de Fuca from Dungeness Spit westward to Cape Flattery - all species

• Sequim Bay and Discovery Bay - butter clams only

All species means clams (including geoduck), oyster, mussels and other invertebrates such as the moon snail. All areas are closed for the sport harvest of scallops. These closures do not apply to shrimp. Crab meat is not known to contain the PSP toxin, but the guts can contain unsafe levels. To be safe, clean crab thoroughly and discard the guts.

It is important to know the difference between butter clams and other species of clams. Butter clams can retain PSP toxin for up to a year or more. Areas may be closed for the sport harvest of butter clams when all other species are safe and open.

PSP poisoning can be life-threatening. The toxin is produced by a naturally occurring organism. The toxin is not destroyed by cooking or freezing.

Common symptoms of PSP poisoning include tingly lips and tongue, moving to the hands and feet, which may begin within minutes of eating the shellfish. In high doses it can cause difficulty breathing, which can cause death without emergency life support. A person who suspects they have eaten contaminated shellfish should seek medical help immediately.

A person cannot tell if the toxin is present by looking. PSP, also known as "red tide," can be detected only by laboratory testing.

Recreational shellfish harvesters should call the Department of Health Biotoxin Hotline at 800-562-5632 or visit the Marine Biotoxin Web site www.doh.wa.gov/shellfishsafety.htm before harvesting shellfish anywhere in Washington.

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