DEC warns of PSP in shellfish
February 12, 2007
Shellfish gatherers should be cautious of the dangers of Paralytic
Shellfish Poison (PSP) from clams and mussels gathered on beaches
across Alaska. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)
is warning sport harvesters not to eat shellfish from beaches
that DEC has not classified as safe. A recent PSP incident in
which a person became ill from eating butter clams in the Juneau
area of Southeast Alaska prompted this warning to sport harvesters.
The risks of PSP from clams
and mussels from unclassified beaches are real. PSP occurs widely
in Alaska and strikes people nearly every year. The only safe
shellfish collection areas are those that DEC classifies for
commercial harvest, where clams, mussels, and other shellfish
are tested on a regular basis.
The DEC warning does not apply to commercially-grown and harvested
clams, mussels, crab, shrimp or other shellfish available in
grocery stores and restaurants. These shellfish are tested regularly
before marketing. Buying shellfish from retail outlets is safest,
since supplies come from tested beaches.
Classified safe beaches include:
Halibut Cove Lagoon, Jakolof
Bay, Kasitsna Bay (McDonald Spit), Tutka Bay, Chugachik Island,
Sadie Cove, Polly Creek and Crescent River, all located in the
Cook Inlet and Kachemak Bay area.
Butter clams are notorious
for high levels of PSP as they can retain the toxin for several
years. The area known as Kachemak Bay East, which extends east-southeast
of a line from Barbara Point to the mouth of Martin River, is
closed to all commercial harvest of butter clams due to unacceptable
PSP levels. All harvesters are cautioned not to mistake small
butter clams for littlenecks clams. Butter clams can be identified
by the prominent concentric growth rings while littlenecks have
circular rings and radiating ridges that criss-cross on the shell.
PSP comes from algae, a food source for filter-feeding shellfish
like clams and mussels. The shellfish store the toxin from the
algae in their tissues. The toxin can be present even when there
is no visible discoloration in the water, or so-called red tides
in the ocean water, and there is no discoloration of the shellfish.
PSP toxin has also been found in crab viscera; however, the rest
of the crab is safe. DEC cautions eating crab viscera from some
species in certain areas of the state. To find out what locations
are unsafe for crab viscera, contact George Scanlan at (907)
Symptoms of PSP may appear in less than an hour after ingestion.
Initial symptoms are a tingling or numbness in the lips and
tongue, often followed by tingling and numbness in the fingertips
and toes. These symptoms may progress to loss of muscle coordination,
dizziness, weakness, drowsiness and incoherence. Vomiting should
be induced at the first sign of the onset of symptoms, and medical
attention should be sought immediately.
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