Unsafe levels of Paralytic Shellfish Poison detected in shellfish along Washington’s Pacific Coast

For immediate release: June 5, 2024   (24-063)

Contact: DOH Communications

Do not harvest recreational shellfish along Washington’s coast, including Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay

OLYMPIA – The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) is closely monitoring high levels of Paralytic Shellfish Poison (PSP) found in shellfish along Washington’s Pacific Coast. All recreational shellfish harvest is prohibited in Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay due to extreme PSP risk. This is part of a broader PSP occurrence along the Oregon coast, where several recreational mussel harvesters were sickened over the Memorial Day weekend.

Willapa Bay closures and shellfish recalls

All commercial shellfish harvesting is closed in Willapa Bay due to elevated marine biotoxin levels. This closure affects all species of shellfish. Certain shellfish lots harvested from Willapa Bay between May 26-30 have been recalled to reduce the risk of PSP illness. There have been no reported illnesses associated with shellfish harvested in Washington. DOH is working closely with industry stakeholders to conduct PSP testing.

“We are working around the clock to notify and collaborate with the affected shellfish growers in Willapa Bay,” said Dani Toepelt, Shellfish Licensing and Certification Manager. “The industry is doing everything they can to get through this PSP event and protect shellfish consumers from getting sick.”

Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning symptoms

PSP is a naturally occurring marine biotoxin that is produced by some species of microscopic algae. Shellfish eat these algae and can retain the toxin. Marine biotoxins are not eliminated by cooking or freezing.

Symptoms of PSP can occur within minutes or hours of consumption, starting with tingling lips and tongue and progressing to the hands and feet, followed by difficulty breathing and potentially death. People experiencing these symptoms should seek medical attention immediately.

Shellfish commercially harvested and distributed to stores and restaurants undergo rigorous toxin testing and are safe for consumption.

Additional beach closure information

DOH is emphasizing the seasonal shellfish closures issued by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife and the Olympic National Park for all Washington coastal beaches. Biotoxin closure signs are prominently displayed at public beaches throughout Pacific and Grays Harbor Counties. Current closure information is available via the Washington Shellfish Safety Map or by calling the biotoxin/red tide hotline at 1-800-562-5632. Additional information regarding marine biotoxins and related illnesses is available on DOH’s website.

Further details regarding seasonal closures and regulations for Washington beaches are available on the Washington Fishing Regulations portal. Information pertaining to harvest seasons within Olympic National Park can be found on the U.S. National Park Service website.

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