October 19, 2017

Much of Vashon Island Shellfish Harvest Areas Closed for PSP

King County Public Health in Seattle, Washington, has closed most of Vashon Island beaches for shellfish harvesting after Paralytic Shellfish Poison (PSP) has been detected at unsafe levels. Quartermaster Harbor is still open for harvest. The commercial harvest is not affected.

Shellfish Photo

PSP is a neurotoxin produced by a naturally occurring marine organism. The toxin is not destroyed by cooking or freezing. PSP poisoning can be life threatening. You cannot determine if the toxin is present by looking at the water or shellfish; it can only be found with laboratory testing. The toxin does not change the taste or texture of shellfish. PSP is not the same thing as “red tide.” Advisory signs at beaches have been posted by public health officials.

The closure includes all species of shellfish, including clams, geoduck, scallops, mussels, oysters, snails and other invertebrates. Moon snails and other gastropods can contain the toxin Sea cucumbers may also be affected. Shrimp and crab are not included in the closing, since crabmeat usually doesn’t contain the PSP toxin, but the guts can have unsafe levels since they feed on other shellfish. To be safe, clean crab thoroughly, removing all of the white-yellow fat inside the back of the shell (the butter), and discard the guts.

Shellfish are filter feeders, and pump water through their systems, filtering out algae and other particles. Biotoxin and neurotoxin producing algae can accumulate in their tissue.

Anyone who eats PSP contaminated shellfish is at risk for illness. The symptoms usually begin 30 to 60 minutes after eating the shellfish, but can take several hours. Symptoms begin with numbness or tingling of the face, tongue, lips, arms, and legs, followed by headache, dizziness, nausea, and loss of muscle coordination. People sometimes feel as if they are floating or may experience nausea. In severe cases, muscle paralysis and respiratory failure follow. Death can occur in 2 to 25 hours. Some people have died after 30 minutes.

If symptoms are mild, call your doctor or the Washington Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. If symptoms are severe, call 911 or go to an emergency room immediately.

Always check advisories or call the Marine Biotixin Hotline at 1-800-562-5632 before harvesting shellfish or fishing. Beaches are usually posted with closure signs, but don’t assume a beach is safe if there are not signs. Some people steal the signs.

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