Paralytic poison detected in shellfish along Washington’s coast

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) has warned the public not to harvest recreational shellfish along Washington’s coast, specifically Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay, due to an influx of potentially poisonous shellfish.

The DOH is closely monitoring high levels of Paralytic Shellfish Poison (PSP) found in certain shellfish along Washington’s Pacific Coast. This is part of a broader PSP occurrence along the Oregon coast, where several recreational mussel harvesters were sickened over the Memorial Day weekend.

PSP is a naturally occurring marine biotoxin that is produced by some species of microscopic algae. Shellfish eat these algae and can retain the toxin, which is not eliminated by cooking or freezing. Symptoms of PSP can occur within minutes or hours of consumption, starting with tingling lips and tongue and progressing to the hands and feet, followed by difficulty breathing and potentially death. People experiencing these symptoms should seek medical attention immediately.

At this time, all recreational shellfish harvest is prohibited in Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay due to “extreme PSP risk.” According to the DOH, this closure affects all species of shellfish.

Certain shellfish lots harvested from Willapa Bay between May 26 and May 30 have also been recalled to reduce the risk of PSP illness. There have been no reported illnesses associated with shellfish harvested in Washington, and the DOH is reportedly conducting extensive PSP testing.

“We are working around the clock to notify and collaborate with the affected shellfish growers in Willapa Bay,” said Dani Toepelt, Shellfish Licensing and Certification Manager. “The industry is doing everything they can to get through this PSP event and protect shellfish consumers from getting sick.”

Current closure information is available via the Washington Shellfish Safety Map or by calling the biotoxin/red tide hotline at 1-800-562-5632. Additional information regarding marine biotoxins and related illnesses is available on DOH’s website.

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