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No Recreational Shellfish Harvesting at North Pierce County Beaches

Sep 7, 2017

TACOMA, Wash.—The State Department of Health closed three recreational shellfish harvest areas in Pierce County because samples showed unsafe levels of paralytic shellfish poison. Harmful levels of the biotoxin mean no recreational harvesting of mussels, clams, and oysters at Commencement Bay, Colvos Passage, and the Narrows. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department placed signs at the public beaches to alert visitors. Shellfish you buy in stores and restaurants is still safe to eat.

“Harvest conditions are subject to change so residents should check every time before they go out,” said Brad Harp, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department Water Resources program manager.

What is paralytic shellfish poison (PSP)?

Some species of microscopic algae produce PSP. This biotoxin affects the nervous system and paralyzes muscles. High levels of PSP can cause severe illness and death, which can occur in less than 30 minutes in some cases.

What are the symptoms?

Tingling of the lips and tongue, which may begin less than two hours after eating toxic shellfish, are early symptoms. Later symptoms may include:

Tingling in fingers and toes.
Loss of control of arms and legs.
Difficulty breathing.
Sense of floating.

If someone consumes enough toxin, muscles of the chest and abdomen become paralyzed—including muscles used for breathing—and the person can suffocate.

What should you do if you think you have PSP?

If symptoms are mild, call your health care provider and the Health Department. If symptoms are severe, call 911 or have someone take you to the emergency room immediately.

How can you protect yourself from PSP?

The State Department of Health regularly tests shellfish for PSP and closes areas that have unsafe levels. Before harvesting any kind of shellfish, check their shellfish safety map at, or call the Marine Biotoxin Hotline at 1 (800) 562-5632. You will find what recreational areas are closed because of biotoxins. Public beaches are sometimes posted with closure signs, but don’t assume a beach is safe if there are no signs.

About Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department: Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s mission is to protect and improve the health of all people and places in Pierce County. As part of our mission, the Health Department tackles known and emerging health risks through policy, programs and treatment in order to protect public health. We are one of only 163 accredited health departments in the country and among six in the state to have met or exceeded the Public Health Accreditation Board’s quality standards. Learn more at

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