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Whidbey beaches closed to shellfish harvesting

Beaches on North and Central Whidbey have been closed to recreational harvesting of shellfish after tests detected unsafe levels of the marine biotoxins that cause paralytic shellfish poisoning in samples.

Roger Case, the health officer for Island County, and the Washington State Department of Health have closed a much of North Whidbey and part of Central Whidbey shorelines to the harvesting of clams, oysters, mussels and scallops.

The closure boundaries are from Keystone Harbor on the west side to Strawberry Point on the east side. The closure includes Deception Pass.

The shellfish samples that tested positive for the poisoning were collected in Cornet Bay. At this time, there are no indications of the toxin in shellfish samples from the east side of Whidbey Island.

Commercially harvested shellfish are sampled separately and products on the market should be safe to eat.

Warning signs have been posted at high-use beaches warning people not to collect shellfish from these areas. The closure includes clams, oysters, mussels, scallops and other species of molluscan shellfish. Crab is not included in the closure, but the “crab butter” should be discarded and only the meat should be eaten.

Marine biotoxins are not destroyed by cooking or freezing and can be life-threatening. People can become ill from eating shellfish contaminated with the naturally occurring marine algae that contains toxins that are harmful to humans. Symptoms of the poisoning can appear within minutes or hours and usually begins with tingling lips and tongue, moving to the hands and feet, then followed by difficulty breathing and potentially death. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should contact a health care provider. For extreme reactions call 911.

In most cases the algae that contain the toxins cannot be seen and must be detected using laboratory testing. Therefore, recreational shellfish harvesters should check the state Department of Health Web site at www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/sf/biotoxin.htm or call the biotoxin hotline at 1-800-562-5632 before harvesting shellfish anywhere in the state.

For further information, contact Kathleen Parvin at (360) 678-7914

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