Ban lifted: Mussels being plucked again from Penn Cove

Shellfish closure still affects varnish, butter clams

Just in time for Thanksgiving, mussels can once again be plucked from Penn Cove.

Sunday, the state lifted an unusually long closure that prohibited harvesting all species of shellfish from Penn Cove waters.

Repeated sampling had revealed extremely high levels of paralytic shellfish poison, a potentially fatal biotoxin.

The ban, that went into effect Sept. 27, prohibited all entities — commercial, recreational and tribal — from harvesting all shellfish in Penn Cove.

Prior to the ban, Penn Cove Shellfish, LLC had moved its harvesting operations from its many local rafts to its Quilcene Bay site after its own testing revealed the biotoxin.

Penn Cove Shellfish resumed collecting and sorting mussels Monday.

“With confidence, we can say it’s safe to harvest in Penn Cove,” Jerry Borchert, marine biotoxin specialist with the state health department, said Tuesday.

“The mussels on the rafts are definitely safe.”

However, butter and varnish clams remain off-limits because they tend to retain the biotoxin longer, Borchert explained.

Currently, westside beaches open to all species of shellfish extend from Bush Point north to the Skagit County line.

On the east side of Whidbey Island, from Sandy Point north to Ala Spit, including Holmes Harbor, Penn Cove and Skagit Bay, areas are closed to butter and varnish clams only.

Photos on the Facebook page of Penn Cove Shellfish show a smiling crew on harvesting boats with postings, “bringing up line after line of beautiful Penn Cove Mussels” and “happy to be bagging up Penn Cove Mussels for Thanksgiving week!!”

Paralytic shellfish poison, known as PSP, is considered the most dangerous marine biotoxin to humans. It’s not destroyed by cooking or freezing.

Borchert called the closure unusual because of both its length of time and the extremely high levels of PSP found in samples.

“We’ve definitely had good results,” he said of recent testing. “Things have improved, for sure.”

To check the status of beaches closed for shellfish gathering, check the on-line Washington Department of Health Shellfish Safety Map.

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