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Whatcom County beaches now safe for recreational shellfishing

Tom Kunesh, environmental health supervisor for Whatcom County, harvests varnish clams at the public beach at the end of Cornwall Avenue in Bellingham. Varnish clams, Kunesh explains, are valuable to public health officials because they pick up toxins sooner than other species and harbor them longer, helping track toxic blooms.
Tom Kunesh, environmental health supervisor for Whatcom County, harvests varnish clams at the public beach at the end of Cornwall Avenue in Bellingham. Varnish clams, Kunesh explains, are valuable to public health officials because they pick up toxins sooner than other species and harbor them longer, helping track toxic blooms. The Bellingham Herald

Recreational shellfish harvesting in Birch Bay is safe once again since biotoxin levels have dropped, the state Department of Health said Friday, June 3.

With that announcement, all Whatcom County beaches have been reopened to harvesting.

The ban had been in place for molluscan shellfish including clams, mussels, oysters and scallops.

Shellfish in stores and restaurants are tested for marine toxins before going to market and are safe to eat.

Biotoxin levels, which can change rapidly, have been rising and falling since April, health officials said. Such biotoxins can sicken people, causing paralytic shellfish poisoning and diarrhetic shellfish poisoning.

Beaches also could be closed to recreational shellfish harvesting because of pollution.

People should check for current biotoxin and pollution closures online at doh.wa.gov/ehp/sf/biotoxin.htm, or call the Biotoxin Hotline at 1-800-562-5632 before harvesting shellfish in the state.

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