January 17, 2021

Paralytic Shellfish Poison Closes Recreational Harvest In Puget Sound

The Washington State Department of Health (WDH) has closed recreational shellfish harvesting in six counties near Puget Sound after dangerous levels of the biotoxin Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) were discovered. Commercially harvested shellfish are not included in the closure and should be safe to eat, according to public health authorities.

Shellfish SelectionThe six counties affected by the recreational shellfish harvest closure are in the central and southern areas of the sound. They are: Jefferson, Island, Snohomish, Kitsap, King and Pierce counties. Warning signs have been posted at beaches in these areas.

Shellfish included in the closure are: clams, oysters, mussels, scallops, geoduck, and other mollusks. Crab is not included in the closure, but “crab butter,” the yellow goo that clings to the inside of the shell is.

PSP is a toxin produced by algae during the warmest months of the year. When shellfish eat the algae, the toxin accumulates in their bodies. Although the toxin does not harm the shellfish, it can cause serious illness or death for people who eat shellfish contaminated with the toxin. PSP cannot  be detected by looking at the water or shellfish. And it cannot be killed by cooking or freezing.

Symptoms of PSP can set in almost immediately or within hours, according to Washington State University. They include a tingling sensation that starts in the lips and tongue and moves to the hands and feet. This can be followed  loss of control of the limbs, difficulty breathing. Depending on the amount of toxin ingested, PSP can paralyze breathing function and cause death in as little as 15 minutes. Public health authorities urge anyone who has eaten shellfish and develops these symptoms to get medical help immediately.

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