Recreational beaches in a large area of Western Washington have been closed to shellfish harvesting because of dangerous levels of Paralytic Shellfish Poison (PSP), the Washington State Department of Health announced on Tuesday.
The area affected by the sometimes-fatal poison includes beaches in parts of King, Snohomish, Pierce, Kitsap, Island and Jefferson counties, the department said in a release.
The health department said affected beaches have signs warning not to collect shellfish including clams, oysters, mussels, scallops and geoducks. Crabs are OK to harvest, but only the meat not the “crab butter” is safe to eat. The poison cannot be cooked out.
PSP symptoms can appear within minutes or hours of eating contaminated fish and usually begins with tingling lips and tongue that moves to the hands and feet, according to the state health department. Difficulty breathing and potential death can follow. Medical help should be called immediately for anyone affected.
The department also warns that people cannot know if PSP is present by looking at the water or shellfish and that the “red tide” some associate with PSP is not inaccurate indicator. Presence of the poison can only be determined through lab testing.
Shellfish collected from commercial beaches in the area should be safe to eat because of regular testing showing their waters are safe, the health department said.
PSP is produced by algae that is more common during warm parts of the year, according to the department.