The levels of marine biotoxins that cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) in shellfish continue to drop in the water in Hood Canal, but remain high in some species of shellfish. As a result, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) has reopened the beaches from the Jefferson/Mason County line to just past Sisters Point to shellfish harvest except for Butter Clams and Varnish Clams. 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 certain shellfish from the area. 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”).
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 begin with tingling lips and tongue, moving to the hand and feet, followed by difficulty breathing, and potentially death. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should contact a health care provider immediately. For extreme reactions cal 9-1-1.
In addition nearly all beaches in Mason County are under a Vibriosis Advisory issued by the State Department of Health (DOH). The DOH advises that all shellfish recreationally harvest during the months June through September should be cooked thoroughly to avoid illness due to Vibriosis. Anyone who eats raw or partially cooked fish or shellfish can become ill.
Vibrio are small bacteria found in fish and shellfish living in saltwater and in rivers and streams where fresh water meets saltwater. They multiply rapidly in warm conditions so fish and shellfish are more likely to be contaminated in the summer. Vibrio is destroyed by cooking shellfish to an internal temperature of 145 degrees for 15 seconds.
Recreational shellfish harvesters shout check the DOH Shellfish Safety Map at doh.wa.gov/shellfishsafety.htm or call the DOH Biotoxin Hot line at 1-800562-56532 before harvesting shellfish anywhere in Washington State. Recreational harvesters should also check Fish and Wildlife regulations and seasons at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish or call the Shellfish Rule Change Hotline: 1-866-880-5431.