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Paralytic Shellfish Poison Closes Beaches in Gig Harbor, Pierce County

The Washington State Department of Health has closed Pierce County beaches for shellfishing after unsafe levels of Paralytic Shellfish Poison were detected in shellfish samples. Health officials say PSP poisoning can be life-threatening.

Editor's note: Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department issued the following press release Wednesday morning.

Paralytic Shellfish Poison (PSP) has been detected at unsafe levels in shellfish samples collected from the Day Island, Point Defiance, Wollochet Bay, and Hale Passage areas of Pierce County. As a result, the Washington State Department of Health has closed Pierce County beaches from the King County line south to Day Island, including Hale Passage and Wollochet Bay. 

The Washington State Department of Health had previously closed the shoreline from Gig Harbor to the Kitsap County line and this closure remains in effect. These areas are closed to the recreational harvest of all shellfish. People are still allowed to visit these beaches, but are not permitted to collect and eat the shellfish.

Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department is posting advisory signs at Dash Point County Park, Brown’s Point Park, Owens Beach, Point Defiance boathouse, , Day Island marina, Wollochet Bay boat launch, and Fox Island Bridge, warning people to not collect shellfish from these areas. An advisory sign has already been posted at Sunrise Beach County Park. 

The closure includes clams, oysters, mussels, scallops and other species of mollusks. Crabs and shrimp are not included in the closure. Commercial beaches are sampled separately and commercial products should be safe to eat. 

PSP poisoning, which can be life-threatening, is caused by eating shellfish containing a potent neurotoxin. A naturally occurring marine organism produces the toxin. The toxin is not destroyed by cooking or freezing.

A person cannot determine if PSP toxin is present by visual inspection of the water or shellfish.

For this reason, the term “red tide” is misleading and inaccurate. PSP can only be detected by laboratory testing. Conditions are changing rapidly and there will likely be more areas closed in the very near future. 

Therefore, recreational shellfish harvesters are advised to call the Department of Health Biotoxin Hotline at 1-800-562-5632 or access the Biotoxin website at www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/sf/biotoxin.htm before harvesting shellfish anywhere in Puget Sound.

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