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Oregon coast closed to razor clams, toxic levels high in Washington


Published on July 6, 2010 12:01AM

Gooseneck barnacles

Gooseneck barnacles

SALEM, Ore. - The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife have extended the area closed to recreational razor clam harvesting to include the coast from Bandon north to Tillamook Head. The closure is because of elevated levels of domoic acid.

The original closure of June 4 included the area from Bandon to Coos Bay. The closure does not affect razor clamming on Clatsop Beach along the north coast. Coastal scallops are not affected by this closure when only the adductor muscle is eaten. The consumption of whole recreationally harvested scallops is not recommended. Crab and oysters are also not affected by the closure and are safe to eat. Recreational mussel harvesting and commercial oyster faming remains open on the entire Oregon coast.

Domoic acid is a naturally occurring toxin produced by marine phytoplankton or algae. Eating shellfish contaminated with domoic acid, even at low levels, can cause minor illness within minutes to hours after consumption due to amnesic shellfish poisoning. The toxin cannot be destroyed by cooking, adding baking soda, or any other method. In mild cases, symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and headache. More severe cases can result in memory problems.

Shellfish toxins are produced by algae and usually originate in the ocean. ODA will continue to test for shellfish toxins weekly, as tides permit. Reopening of an area requires two consecutive tests in the safe range. For more information, call ODA's shellfish safety information hotline at 800- 448-2474 or the Food Safety Division at 503-986-4720.

In early June potentially deadly levels of the one-celled dinoflaggelate Alexandrium which can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) were found from the Strait of Juan de Fuca into Puget Sound. Contaminated shellfish there were at toxic levels not seen in a decade in Washington. PSP can occur when filter-feeding shellfish ingest the one-celled dinoflaggelate Alexandrium. PSP is 1,100 times more deadly than cyanide.

Health officials closed beaches throughout Discovery Bay in Jefferson County. Shorelines were also closed in Clallam, Whatcom and San Juan counties. Fidalgo Bay in Skagit County was later closed to recreational shellfish harvesting because of lethal levels of PSP.

Health officials in Jefferson County said toxins were so high at some beaches that a four-ounce serving of recreationally harvested shellfish could kill you. In Clallam County, officials said they haven't seen red tide levels this toxic in 10 or 15 years.

Levels of toxin in Clallam County were as high as over 3,000 micrograms. Anything above 80 micrograms is considered dangerous. Last year beaches on the Long Beach Peninsula were closed to razor clamming during one tide series because the level of PSP was 82 micrograms.

Bruce Kauffman from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at Willapa Bay Field Station cautioned against eating gooseneck barnacles that came ashore last week on several large logs. Gooseneck barnacles, which were living in closely-bunched clusters on the driftwood, are considered a delicacy in several countries and local gulls and crows found them much to their liking, as well. Kauffman said that without testing the goosenecks there was no way of knowing if they were safe to eat.

WDFW workers at Willapa Bay Field Station test razor clams for toxins that can cause both ASP and PSP before scheduled digs during the fall, winter and spring, but do not typically perform the expensive operation when seasons are closed. Elevated levels of the dinoflaggelate Alexandrium which can cause PSP were discovered in ocean water samples taken near Leadbetter Point last month.


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