Recreational shellfish harvesting closed throughout Whatcom County


Recreational molluscan shellfish harvesting in all of Whatcom County has been closed by the Washington State Department of Health as of May 24. Unsafe levels of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) biotoxins have been detected in Drayton Harbor and Bellingham Bay.

Molluscan shellfish, which include clams, mussels, oysters and scallops, tend to have the highest concentration of toxins. PSP biotoxins cannot be destroyed by cooking or freezing. Crab meat is not affected by PSP biotoxins, but “crab butter” and crab entrails should always be discarded as they can harbor biotoxins.

According to the Washington State Department of Health, “PSP biotoxin can cause severe illness and death. Symptoms include numbness and tingling of lips and tongue, which may begin within minutes of eating toxic shellfish or may take an hour or two to develop. Symptoms may progress to tingling of fingers and toes and then loss of control of arms and legs, followed by difficulty in breathing. Some people feel nauseous or experience a sense of floating. If a person consumes enough toxin, the chest and abdomen muscles become paralyzed, including muscles used for breathing, and the victim can suffocate. Death from Paralytic Shellfish Poison has occurred in less than 30 minutes.”

Shellfish sold in restaurants and markets have been tested prior to distribution and have been determined safe to eat.

Always check for biotoxin and pollution closures before harvesting shellfish recreationally. Updated closures can be found at or by calling the Washington State Department of Health’s Biotoxin Hotline at 1-800/562-5632.


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