Public Health News

Posted on: August 30, 2017

Lethal Levels of Shellfish Biotoxin Found at Fort Flagler; Port Townsend Bay Closes

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August 30, 2017

For Immediate Release
Contact: Michael Dawson
Jefferson County Environmental Health
(360) 385-9444 ext. 301


Lethal Levels of Shellfish Biotoxin Found at Fort Flagler;
Port Townsend Bay Closes


Port Townsend – Marine biotoxins that cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) have recently been detected at lethal concentrations in shellfish samples collected from Fort Flagler State Park. PSP concentrations have continued to rise to over 1,000 micrograms per 100 grams of shellfish; the closure level is 80 micrograms. For the second time this summer, Port Townsend Bay closes for recreational harvesting of all shellfish species. Port Townsend Bay first closed on July 19, 2017.  The Washington State Department of Health warns the public that consumption of shellfish with such high amounts of toxin is potentially lethal. Jefferson County Public Health will continue to test local beaches and will notify the public when shellfish are safe to harvest again. Shellfish harvested commercially are tested for toxin prior to distribution and should be safe to eat. 

Danger signs have been posted at high-use beaches, warning people not to consume shellfish from this area. The closure includes clams, oysters, mussels, scallops and other species of molluscan shellfish. This closure does not apply to shrimp. Crabmeat is not known to contain the biotoxin but the guts can contain unsafe levels.  To be safe, clean crab thoroughly and discard the guts (butter). 

Currently, the only waterbodies in Jefferson County that do not have a biotoxin closure are Oak Bay and Hood Canal, although a vibrio warning to cook all shellfish is posted throughout Hood Canal. 

Marine biotoxins are not destroyed by cooking or freezing. People can become ill from eating shellfish contaminated with the naturally occurring marine algae containing toxins harmful to humans. Symptoms of PSP can appear within minutes or hours and usually begins with tingling lips and tongue, moving to the hands and feet, followed by difficulty breathing, and potentially death.  Anyone experiencing these symptoms should contact a health care provider immediately.  For extreme reactions call 911.

In most cases the algae that contain the toxins cannot be seen, and must be detected using laboratory testing. Therefore, recreational shellfish harvesters should check the DOH clickable map, or call the DOH Biotoxin Hotline at 1-800-562-5632 before harvesting shellfish anywhere in Washington State. Recreational harvesters should also check Fish and Wildlife regulations and seasons, or the Shellfish Rule Change Hotline 1-866-880-5431.

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