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Several Orcas Island Beaches Closed to Recreational Shellfish Harvesting

June 1, 2024The Washington State Department of Health has closed recreational shellfish harvesting at the beaches in East Sound on Orcas due to unsafe levels of Paralytic Shellfish Poison (PSP). This closure includes all species of molluscan shellfish including clams, geoduck, scallops, mussels, oysters, and snails. This harvesting closure applies to the East Sound body of water and not the town of Eastsound.

All other beaches in the County remain open, but please check the Washington Shellfish Safety Map or call the 24-hour hotline at 1-800-562-5632 before you dig as PSP levels can change rapidly. In addition to East Sound, the entire Washington coast is closed to recreational shellfish harvesting due to high levels of PSP.

PSP and other biotoxins are poisons that occur naturally in marine waters; however, certain environmental factors can increase the production of these poisons. Molluscan shellfish that filter feed (shellfish with hinged shells such as oysters, clams, and mussels) can ingest these biotoxins, which remain in their system. Meat from crab and shrimp is not affected, but “crab butter” and entrails should be discarded during PSP advisories as they may contain biotoxins. When PSP concentrations reach unsafe levels in shellfish, ingesting them can cause severe illness or death. Cooking shellfish does not destroy PSP present in their system, and there is no antidote for Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning.

San Juan County Health & Community Services works in partnership with the Washington State Department of Health to ensure safe harvesting of recreational shellfish.  Shellfish from different areas of the County are collected on a routine basis from April to October and sent to the Public Health Lab where they are analyzed for biotoxin levels.

PSP levels can change rapidly. SJC HCS will continue to collect samples and monitor biotoxin levels; when levels return to a safe concentration, certain areas will reopen for harvesting. Always check the Shellfish Safety Map or call WA State’s 24-hour hotline at 1-800-562-5632 before harvesting shellfish.

If you experience symptoms of Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning, please seek medical attention immediately.

Relevant URLs:

  1. Washington Shellfish Safety Map
  2. Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) | Washington State Department of Health
  3. Shellfish Harvest Planner | Washington State Department of Health
  4. Shellfish Handling, Storing, and Cooking | Washington State Department of Health
  5. Public clam, mussel, and oyster beaches | Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife