Toxin levels reaching lethal levels led the state Department of Health on Thursday to close several Pierce County beaches to recreational shellfish harvesting after high levels of paralytic shellfish poison were found in samples collected along Carr Inlet.
The affected beaches include those from Point Fosdick south to Devils Head, including all of Carr Inlet and McNeil Island. Beaches along Commencement Bay and the Tacoma Narrows south to Point Fosdick, including Day Island, also are closed.
Staff members from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department have posted advisory signs warning people not to collect shellfish, including clams, oysters, mussels, scallops and other species of mollusks, from those areas.
Crab and shrimp are not included in the closure, but the crab season is closed to recreational fishing and only limited shrimping is allowed at this time.
Toxin levels from samples taken at Penrose Point State Park reached as high as 8,000 micrograms per 100 grams of tissue, well above the closure level of 80 micrograms, said Ray Hanowell, environmental health specialist with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.
There have been no reports of anyone getting sick, but “that is reaching the worrisome level; you just don’t want people eating those shellfish,” Hanowell said.
Toxin levels have not been this dangerously high since 2000, when testing of shellfish at Horeshead Bay showed toxin levels at 13,000 micrograms, Hanowell said. One person was sickened to the point of being put on life support for a time.
Experience, Hanowell said, shows toxin levels will drop within a few weeks, but the closure likely will last longer. The concern is with butter clams, because they hold the toxin longer.
Paralytic shellfish poisoning, which can be life-threatening, occurs when people eat shellfish containing a potent neurotoxin. A naturally occurring marine organism produces the toxin, and cooking or freezing does not destroy it, according to the county Health Department.
Health officials said diggers cannot detect the poisoning by looking at the water or the shellfish. Only laboratory testing can detect poison levels. That is why, officials stressed, referring to a toxin outbreak such as this as “red tide” is misleading and inaccurate.
Paralytic shellfish poisoning outbreaks also can be an issue with razor clam digs on the coast, leading to beach closures.
Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640
Purdy Sand Spit
Penrose State Park
Home Boat Launch
Longbranch Boat Launch
Wollochet Bay Boat Launch
Kopachuk State Park
Fox Island Bridge
DeMolay Sand Spit and Nature Preserve
Days Island Marina
Sunrise Beach County Park
Conditions are changing rapidly and the state Deparment of Health might close other beaches.Recreational shellfish harvesters can call the botoxin hotline at 800-562-5632 or go online to doh.wa.gov/ehp/sf/biotoxin.htm before harvesting shellfish anywhere in Puget Sound.