Birch Bay beaches closed to shellfish harvesting

Published on Wed, May 16, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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The Washington State Department of Health has announced all beaches north of Sandy Point, including Birch Bay, are closed to recreational shellfish harvesting.

The closures come after elevated levels of marine biotoxin were found in recent shellfish samples. The closure includes all species of molluscan shellfish that are otherwise harvestable, including clams, mussels and other invertebrates, such as the moon snail. Crab meat is not affected, but “crab butter” and crab entrails can harbor the biotoxin and should be discarded.

Eating shellfish contaminated with marine biotoxin can be deadly. Biotoxins are not destroyed by cooking or freezing.

The specific marine biotoxin, called paralytic shellfish poison (PSP), is found in certain types of naturally occurring algae. Shellfish eat the algae, and the PSP subsequently builds up in the shellfish flesh, making it unsafe to eat.

Symptoms of PSP poisoning can appear within minutes or may take several hours to manifest. Early symptoms include numbness in the lips, tongue or extremities, while more serious symptoms include difficulty breathing, paralysis and potentially death.

For more information about the health department’s shellfish harvesting closures, visit the health department's website.