With the return of spring and daytime low tides, you might be venturing out to harvest shellfish from one of Skagit County’s many beaches. With the help of a diligent group of volunteer harvesters, Skagit County Public Health monitors samples of clams, oysters, and mussels for biotoxins, including the toxin that causes Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP). Skagit County Public Health works with the Washington State Department of Health to issue beach closures when toxin levels become elevated.
PSP is a serious illness caused by eating shellfish containing elevated levels of a naturally occurring microscopic organism. What begins as a tingling sensation in the lips and tongue can progress to a life-threatening paralysis of the respiratory system.
Before harvesting shellfish always check the current beach closures posted on the Shellfish Safety Map or the Marine Biotoxin Bulletin or by calling the Marine Biotoxin Hotline at 1-800-562-5632.
Samish Bay Seasonal Vibrio Advisory
The Department of Health has updated the Shellfish Safety Map to reflect the seasonal Vibrio Bacteria Advisory for recreational shellfish harvesting in Samish Bay from May 1- September 30, 2022. Vibrio is a bacteria naturally found in marine coastal waters, normally present in low numbers. When the weather warms up, these bacteria multiply rapidly so shellfish are more likely to be contaminated in the summer.
As a bacterium, vibrio can be removed from shellfish by using “Check, Chill, Cook”. Check the status of the waterbody, chill your harvested shellfish immediately, and cook shellfish to 145° F for 15 seconds.
Tips for Safe Shellfish Consumption
There are a variety of other bacterial and viral illnesses caused by consuming contaminated shellfish. Proper cooking of shellfish before eating is always advised. Eat only well-cooked shellfish, especially in summer months. Do not consider shellfish to be fully cooked when the shells just open — they need to cook longer to reach 145° F. For more information: How to handle store and cook shellfish
- Just before you leave, check for closures and advisories due to vibrio, biotoxins, and pollution at our Shellfish Safety Map, by contacting your local health department, or by calling our biotoxin hotline at 1-800-562-5632.
- Harvest shellfish as soon as possible with the receding tide.
- Don’t harvest shellfish that have been exposed to the sun for more than one hour.
- Keep shellfish on ice immediately after harvesting.
- Thoroughly cook shellfish- the internal temperature must reach 145 °F for 15 seconds. Thorough cooking destroys vibrio bacteria. Cooking does not destroy biotoxins.
- If you need a refresher, here is a guide on shellfish identification.
- More shellfish safety tips.
For questions about shellfish at beaches in Skagit County, please email Samantha Russell at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-416-1500.