Red tide shuts down clammers

Published on Thu, Jun 20, 2002 by Meg Olson

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Red tide shuts down clammers

By Meg Olson

County health officials have issued red tide warnings for Birch Bay and Drayton Harbor, cautioning that local shellfish have high enough toxin levels to make anyone who eats them very sick, or worse, dead.

Red tide isn’t usually red in local waters, but the plankton Alexandria cantinella still packs the same naturally occurring toxin often associated with warm weather plankton blooms. Shellfish like mussels, oysters and clams are filter feeders and, as they feed on the plankton, the toxin accumulates in their bodies. Recent tests in Drayton Harbor, already closed to shellfish harvesting due to fecal coliform contamination, turned up mussels with ten times higher than the average safe level of the toxin.

People who eat shellfish with high toxin levels then become sick with paralytic shellfish poisoning. First signs include numbness and tingling of lips, mouth and tongue. That’s the time to get medical attention. In severe cases early symptoms can be followed with dizziness, numbness and paralysis of limbs, paralysis of muscles used to breathe, and death.

County health officials added the warnings applied only to recreationally harvested shellfish from these two bodies of water. Commercially available shellfish is tested and safe to eat. Other areas in the county are also monitored and are not now affected by red tide. However, that could change as the weather stays warmer. For most recent red tide information call 800/562-5632..

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