Quilcene Bay shellfish show lethal levels of PSP biotoxins

By Rob Ollikainen , Peninsula Daily News


PORT TOWNSEND — Lethal levels of marine biotoxins that cause paralytic shellfish poisoning have been detected in shellfish taken from Quilcene Bay, Jefferson County health officials warned Monday.

Quilcene and Dabob bays have been closed to the recreational harvest of molluscan shellfish ­— clams, oysters, mussels and scallops — since Sept. 8.

Paralytic shellfish poisoning, or PSP, concentrations have risen to more than 6,000 micrograms per 100 grams of shellfish.

That’s 75 times the 80-microgram closure level, and twice the levels detected last week.

“It keeps climbing,” said Michael Dawson, water quality lead for Jefferson County Environmental Health.

A combination of warm weather and calm water may be contributing to the elevated levels of PSP, Dawson said

Additional samples from Quilcene Bay and surrounding areas were collected Monday.

“Right now, we’re mostly wanting to check and see if it might be spreading,” Dawson said.

“So we’ve been checking down the Hood Canal.”

The state Department of Health is warning the public that eating shellfish with such high amounts of toxin is potentially deadly.

Symptoms of PSP can appear within minutes and usually begins with tingling lips and tongue moving to the hands and feet, followed by difficulty breathing and potentially death.

Danger signs have been posted at public beaches warning the public not to eat the shellfish, Dawson said.

Marine biotoxins are not destroyed by cooking or freezing.

The closure does not apply to shrimp.

Crabmeat is not known to contain the biotoxin, but the guts can contain unsafe levels.

To be safe, clean crab thoroughly and discard the guts, health officials say.

Commercially-harvested shellfish are tested for toxins prior to distribution and should be safe to eat.

Areas closed to the recreational harvest of all species of shellfish in Jefferson County are Quilcene Bay, Dabob Bay and Discovery Bay.

Kilisut Harbor, including Mystery Bay, and the Port Ludlow area are closed to the recreational harvest of butter and varnish clams only.

Jefferson County Public Health will continue to test affected beaches and will notify the public when shellfish are safe to harvest, officials said.

In Clallam County, the recreational harvest of butter clams is closed from Cape Flattery to Dungeness Spit.

Varnish clams are closed along the entire North Olympic Peninsula.

Sequim Bay is closed to all species of shellfish.

Seasonal closures are in effect for the Pacific Ocean beaches.

Recreational shellfish harvesters can get the latest information about the safety of shellfish on the state website at www.doh.wa.gov or by phoning 800-562-5632 before harvesting shellfish anywhere in the state.

Recreational shellfishers also should consult state Fish and Wildlife at www.wdfw.wa.gov.

Tribes Recovering from Geoduck Ban

Mar 19th, 2014 Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

Western Washington tribes are quickly recovering from a sudden ban in December 2013 on selling geoduck to China.

The Asian country claimed it received a shipment of geoduck from Ketchikan, Alaska, that had high levels of paralytic shellfish poisoning, and a shipment from Poverty Bay in Puyallup, Wash., that had high levels of arsenic.

Suquamish Seafoods employee James Banda packs geoduck for international shipping.
Suquamish Seafoods employee James Banda packs geoduck for international shipping.

As a result, China announced it was banning all imports of bivalve shellfish from Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Northern California. This was just before the Chinese New Year, a lucrative time for harvesters and buyers, when geoducks are traditionally served.

“It was bad at the beginning because we didn’t know what was going on,” said Tony Forsman, general manager of the Suquamish Tribe’s Suquamish Seafoods, which regularly ships shellfish internationally. “China didn’t tell us for two weeks they were doing this.”

Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have been working with Chinese officials to determine how they came to their conclusions and have been in close communication with Washington Department of Health and western Washington tribal officials about the progress. Officials from NOAA are meeting in person with officials from China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine this month to further discuss the situation.

The shellfish in question from Poverty Bay passed all the rigorous tests needed to be exported to China, said David Fyfe, shellfish biologist for Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

“We’re working with China to figure out why we suddenly don’t meet their standards,” he said.

In the meantime, harvesters and buyers are continuing to send their catches to other Asian countries, including Vietnam. U.S. officials are asking China to reduce the ban area from the West Coast to just the two original areas of concern.

Suquamish Seafoods had to layoff nine employees in December – including those who sort, pack and ship the shellfish – but everyone was re-hired by mid-February. Suquamish Tribe harvesters annually gather nearly 500,000 pounds of geoduck.

“There have been blips in the market, such as having to sell smaller geoduck, plus market pressure forced prices down,” Forsman said. “We’ve all just had to adjust – divers, market, buyers, us. Things are fine now but we had to adjust and adjust fast.”

Despite the “blip”, it did prove that the United States shellfish quality control system works, Fyfe said. Harvesters have to meet the National Shellfish Sanitation Program standards, which includes providing information about the harvester, day and tract from which shellfish was harvested.