With the upcoming warm weather and 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 routinely monitors samples of clams, oysters and mussels for the toxins that cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP), Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP), and Diarrhetic Shellfish Poison (DSP).
Consuming shellfish with elevated levels of these marine biotoxins can cause serious illness or death. What begins as a tingling sensation in the lips and tongue can progress to a life-threatening paralysis of the respiratory system.
Skagit County Public Health works with the Washington State Department of Health to issue beach closures when toxin levels become elevated. Before harvesting shellfish, always check for current beach closures posted on the Shellfish Safety Map or the Marine Biotoxin Bulletin, or call 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, 2021. 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.
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 during summer months. Do not consider shellfish to be fully cooked when the shells first open; shellfish need to cook for longer and must reach 145° F to be safe to eat. Click the link for more information on how to handle, store, and cook shellfish.
- Just before you leave, check for closures and advisories due to vibrio, biotoxins, and pollution at on the Shellfish Safety Map, by contacting Skagit County Public Health (360-416-1500), or by calling the 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 at least 15 seconds. Cooking shellfish thoroughly destroys vibrio bacteria; however, 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.