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Oregon and Washington Coasts Shut Down All Shellfish Due to 'Historic Levels' of Biotoxin

Published 6/07/24 at 6:15 a.m.
By Andre' Hagestedt, Oregon Coast Beach Connection

(Long Beach, Washington) – Both the Oregon and Washington coastlines have shut down all shellfish harvesting, with Washington doing so on Wednesday after most of Oregon was closed due to the biotoxin Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP). Then on Thursday, Oregon officials closed down the remaining parts of the coast because of more PSP levels being found and an abundance of caution. (Photo Seaside Aquarium)

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At least 20 people became quite sick after eating mussels acquired on Oregon beaches that were infected with the poison, part of why both states closed off mussels and clams to recreational harvesters. This includes bay clams and razor clams.

The directives come from Washington State Department of Health (DOH) and Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA). This has also affected some commercial operations.

All beaches and bays on the Oregon coast – from California to the Washington border - are closed to any kind of shellfish harvesting.

While beaches in Washington are closed to recreational harvesting for the season anyway, DOH has closed the two main bays of Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay to both recreational and commercial harvesting.

Willapa Bay area

Crabbing is not closed in the Pacific Northwest, but make sure you gut the viscera before eating as those often contain biotoxins.

“All recreational shellfish harvest is prohibited in Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay due to extreme PSP risk,” DOH said.

All shellfish gathering is currently closed for the season in the Olympic National Park as well.

Washington coast

Dani Toepelt, Shellfish Licensing and Certification Manager with Washington State, said that although there have been no harvesters getting sick in Washington, the closures of both industrial and public shellfish are because they are seeing high biotoxin levels there as well.

Certain shellfish lots harvested from Willapa Bay between May 26-30 have been recalled to reduce the risk of PSP illness.

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

Public beaches in Pacific and Grays Harbor counties have prominent biotoxin warning signs. 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.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) called it “historic high levels” of PSP, finding it in razor clams and mussels, leading to ever-expanding closures since May 23.

“PSP is a natural marine biotoxin produced by some species of microscopic algae,” ODFW said.

It is eaten by the shellfish and cannot be cooked or cleaned out of the creatures.

The ODA has also closed these commercial fisheries:

Tillamook Bay - Oregon Coast Beach Connection

Tillamook Bay: oysters.
Netarts Bay: oysters.
Umpqua bay: oysters.
Coastwide: razor clams and bay clams

Symptoms (from DOH):

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.

“Shellfish commercially harvested and distributed to stores and restaurants undergo rigorous toxin testing and are safe for consumption,” DOH said.

For more information on Oregon, call ODA's shellfish biotoxin hotline at (800) 448-2474, the ODA Food Safety Program at 503- 986-4720, or visit the ODA Recreational Shellfish Biotoxin Closures Webpage.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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