The Washington State Department of Health has closed Quartermaster Harbor for shellfish harvesting because Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) has been detected at unsafe levels in the shellfish on Vashon-Maury Island. The commercial harvest is not affected. Commercial beaches are sampled separately and commercial products should be safe to eat.
Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning is caused by a neurotoxin produced by a naturally occurring marine organism. You cannot determine if this toxin is present simply by looking at the water or the shellfish. PSP can only be found with laboratory testing.
The symptoms of PSP usually begin 30 to 60 minutes after eating contaminated shellfish, but may take several hours to appear. The first symptoms are numbness or tingling of the face, arms, and legs. This is followed by headache, dizziness, nausea, and loss of muscle coordination. Sometimes people feel as though they are floating. In cases of severe poisoning, muscle paralysis and respiratory failure appear. In those cases, people can die in 2 to 25 hours.
The closure includes all species of shellfish found in those waters, including clams, geoduck, scallops, mussels, oysters, snails, and other invertebrates. The closure does not include crab or shrimp. Crabmeat doesn’t contain the toxin, but the guts of that animal can harbor unsafe levels. Always clean crab thoroughly and discard the guts, also known as crab butter.
If you eat shellfish and experience these symptoms, but they are mild, see your doctor or call the Washington Poison Center at 800-222-1222 or Public Health at 206-296-4774. Anyone suffering from severe symptoms should call 911 or be taken to the emergency room immediately.
All shellfish harvesters should check with the state and county government websites before going out. Recreational shellfish harvesting can be closed at any time. You can call the DOH Biotoxin Hotline at 1-800-562-563 or visit the Shellfish Safety Website before harvesting shellfish anywhere in Puget Sound.