Local beaches closed to varnish clam harvest

Published on Thu, Nov 18, 2010
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All Whatcom County beaches have been closed to the harvest of varnish clams after health officials found them to contain dangerous levels of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) biotoxins.

The Washington State Department of Health officials detected PSP in varnish clams harvested from Chuckanut Bay and Birch Bay. The clams appear to be retaining biotoxin from an algal bloom that peaked early last summer.

Varnish clams are found on all Whatcom County beaches and are also known as purple varnish clams or mahogany clams.
They are two to three inches in diameter and often have a dark brown “skin” on the outer shell. The inside of the shell is a light purple color.

Beaches south of Sandy Point to the Skagit County border are also closed to the harvest of butter clams. Crab meat is not affected by PSP, but “crab butter” and crab entrails can harbor biotoxin and should be discarded.

PSP intoxication can be life-threatening. Symptoms of PSP intoxication may appear within minutes or hours and usually begin with tingling lips and tongue, possibly followed by difficulty breathing, and in some cases, death.

Individuals who experience these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention or call 911 in the case of extreme reactions.

For more information, visit www.doh.wa.gov. Individuals should call the DOH biotoxin Hotline at 800/562-5632 before harvesting shellfish anywhere in Washington state.