Officials close some Whidbey west side beaches to shellfish harvesting

The west side of Whidbey Island from Bush Point north to the Skagit County line at Deception Pass Bridge is closed to shellfish harvesting of all species because of marine biotoxins.

Island County environmental health officials announced the closure Wednesday. The restriction doesn’t affect salmon fshing, said Keith Higman, Island County Health Services Director.

The “area is closed for the recreational harvesting for all species including clams, geoduck, scallops, mussels, oysters, snails and other invertebrates but not crab or shrimp,” explained a statement posted on Island County’s government website.

Crabmeat is not known to contain the marine toxin known as PSP “but the guts can contain unsafe levels. To be safe, clean crab thoroughly and discard the guts,” the statement advised.

Paralytic shellfish poison (PSP) is a naturally occurring toxin, known as a “marine biotoxin,” that is produced by some species of microscopic algae. It can concentrate in shellfish and, when eaten, can cause illness in humans.

It affects the nervous system and paralyzes muscles. High levels of PSP can cause severe illness and death, according to the Washington State Department of Health. More information is available on its website.

Those lining up along west side beaches with fishing poles need not worry.

Only shellfish are affected. Bush Point is still open to fishing.

“I have never heard of a case PSP toxin killing salmon or salmon fishing closures due to elevated levels of PSP toxin in the environment,” said Jerry Borchert with the state Office of Environmental Health & Safety.

The state regularly updates beaches and areas deemed closed on an interactive map.

Island County officials recommend people harvesting shellfish check the site for any new closures before heading out.