Skagit Shellfish Harvesting: A Seasonal Reminder from Skagit County Public Health

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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

Safe Harvesting

  • 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 srussell@co.skagit.wa.us or call 360-416-1500.


Immediate closure of Pass Lake: Danger for toxic blue green algae exposure at Pass Lake, Deception Pass State Park

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August 17, 2021

Users of Deception Pass State Park should be aware that Pass Lake in the Skagit County portion of the park is closed until further notice due to high Anatoxin-a levels. Water samples tested this week detected concentrations of Anatoxin-a in exceedance of the state recreational guidelines.

The preliminary result from the King County Environmental Lab is 2,576 micrograms per liter of anatoxin-a present in the water sample taken from Pass Lake. According to the Washington State Department of Health, the level of public health concern for anatoxin-a is 1 microgram per liter. 

Anatoxin-a is an acute neurotoxin that can be harmful to humans and animals. Even short-term exposure is a concern. Signs of Neurotoxin Poisoning appear within 15-20 minutes of ingestion, and may include:

  • In people: numbness of the lips, tingling in fingers and toes, and dizziness.
  • In animals: weakness, staggering, difficulty breathing, convulsions, and death.

Until further testing confirms the toxin levels are back within state recreational guidelines, red “Danger” signs will be posted at the lake advising individuals to keep out of the lake, do not swim, drink lake water, fish, recreate, or allow pets or animals to access the lake.

The toxicity of each bloom can vary and is difficult to predict. Toxicity can change from one day to the next. It isn’t possible to determine how dangerous a bloom is to people and animals by looking at it. Only testing can tell if it is dangerous. Pass Lake will be continuously monitored until the levels drop below recommended guidelines.

The public is encouraged to take the following precautions when choosing a body of water for recreation:

  • Look for signs of toxic algae blooms and pay attention to signage. When in doubt, stay out!
  • Do not swim in, and limit exposure to water that is under a health advisory or is listed as having a toxic algae bloom on the Washington State Department of Ecology toxic algae tracking site.
  • Contact a healthcare provider immediately if you become ill or have symptoms after a suspected exposure to algae bloom.

For questions concerning cyanobacteria blooms within Skagit County lakes, please e-mail Samantha Russell at eh@co.skagit.wa.us or visit the Washington State Department of Health website for Blue-Green Algae. Testing results for Washington Lakes are posted at Washington State Toxic Algae.


Shellfish Harvesting & Consumption: What You Know To Know

Reading Time: 2 minutes

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.

Safe Harvesting

  • 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 srussell@co.skagit.wa.us or call 360-416-1500.