Thanks to Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) toxins produced by microscopic marine algae… King and east Kitsap Counties are closed to harvest of all shellfish species including clams and geoduck, oysters, mussels, and other invertebrates such as the moon snail (which are no longer legally harvestable anyway).
The meat from crabs is not known to contain the PSP toxin. The guts (butter) can contain PSP levels that are not safe, so carefully clean your crabs and toss the guts. (I guess I’d better stop letting the chickens gobble the guts lest I wake up to a poultry Jonestown.)
Invasive purple varnish (mahogany) clams hold the toxin longer than any other bivalve in the region. Butter clams also hold onto the toxin for longer than most shellfish. Sometimes shorelines will be closed to varnish clam only or to both species only, so read the health maps and warnings carefully. Even when beaches are open, it’s a good idea to cut off the black tip of the butter clam’s siphon before eating it since toxins are concentrated in the tip.
The DOH clickable shellfish biotoxin/pollution map is an excellent resource to check every time you head out for shellfish or might interact with others who are digging dinner. You can also learn more about the toxin and it’s origins from the Department of Health PSP fact sheet and the links it provides.
Washington Sea Grant also has a really great publication called Gathering Safe Shellfish: Avoiding Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning. The document has lots of great info and fabulous black and white drawings of some of the harvested shellfish species in the Salish Sea (great identification resource). It also discusses the difference between the striking blooms you may see and those creating biotoxins.
This too shall pass. In the meantime… enjoy the the beaches in Puget Sound’s Main Basin, but but keep the butter out of your belly and your shovel out of the sand.
Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets and videos, email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 360-337-4619.