Shellfish harvesting ban lifted on north Whatcom County beaches

Published on Wed, Aug 27, 2014 by Steve Guntli

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On August 22, The Whatcom County Health Department announced that biotoxin levels in northern Whatcom County had decreased, allowing some beaches to open for molluscan shellfish harvesting. 

Tom Kunesh, environmental health supervisor for the health department, said all beaches between Point Whitehorn and the Canadian border have shown improved levels of biotoxins, and will be reopened for harvesting effective immediately. Beaches in Point Roberts are still subject to the closure. 

Several Whatcom County beaches have been closed to shellfish harvesting since May, due to the increased threat of diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP) and paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP). These biotoxins have a particularly strong influence on clams, mussels, oysters and other molluscan shellfish. Crab meat is not generally affected, but the yellow entrails, or “crab butter” within can harbor the biotoxins.

Representatives of the health department and neighborhood volunteers have already begun removing beach closure signs in Birch Bay State Park, Birch Bay Village, the Semiahmoo Harbor Association and Blaine Harbour. 

Biotoxin levels tend to be seasonal, reaching their peaks during the early summer months and leveling off in the fall. For the last several years, the biotoxin levels in north Whatcom County have been fairly consistent, dropping off to minimal levels in August and September before rising again in October. 

“We cannot say for sure whether we will see a biotoxin bloom later in the fall,” Kunesh said. “The most important precaution is to always check with the biotoxin hotline or website before harvesting molluscan shellfish.”

Kunesh also recommends thoroughly cooking all harvested shellfish. While cooking or freezing does not destroy the biotoxins, thoroughly cooking the shellfish will remove any bacteria or viruses that may also be present. 

For more information, call the biotoxin hotline at 800/562-5632, or visit the Washington State Department of Health’s website at