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Health & Community Services News

Posted on: September 6, 2023

Dangers of Digging When Beaches Are Closed to Recreational Shellfish Harvesting

Health and Community Services

SAN JUAN COUNTY, WA. September 6, 2023 – San Juan County beaches remain closed to recreational shellfish harvesting due to unsafe levels of Paralytic Shellfish Poison (PSP). This closure includes all species of molluscan shellfish including clams, geoduck, scallops, mussels, oysters, and snails. A follow-up sample collected in Eastsound last week shows one of the highest levels of PSP we have seen in recent years.

PSP and other biotoxins are poisons that occur naturally in marine waters; however, certain environmental factors can increase the production of these poisons. When PSP concentrations reach unsafe levels in shellfish, ingesting them can cause severe illness or death. Cooking shellfish does not destroy PSP present in their system, and there is no antidote for Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning.

Here are the symptoms to look out for:

  • Early symptoms include tingling of the lips and tongue, which may begin within minutes of eating toxic shellfish or may take an hour or two to develop.
  • Symptoms may progress to tingling of fingers and toes and then loss of control of arms and legs, followed by difficulty in breathing.
  • Some people feel nauseous or experience a sense of floating.
  • If a person consumes enough toxin, muscles of the chest and abdomen become paralyzed, including muscles used for breathing, and the victim can suffocate.

If you experience symptoms of Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning, please seek medical attention immediately.

San Juan County Health & Community Services works in partnership with the Washington State Department of Health to ensure safe harvesting of recreational shellfish.  Shellfish from different areas of the County are collected on a routine basis from April to October and sent to the Public Health Lab where they are analyzed for biotoxin levels.

PSP levels can change rapidly. HCS will continue to collect samples and monitor biotoxin levels; when levels return to a safe concentration, certain areas will reopen for harvesting. Always check the Shellfish Safety Map or call WA State’s 24-hour hotline at 1-800-562-5632 before harvesting shellfish.

Relevant URLs:

Media Contact:

Kirk Sato, Environmental Health Specialist,, 360-298-5141

About San Juan County’s Department of Health & Community Services    

San Juan County’s Department of Health & Community Services is responsible for community and environmental health, mental health and substance abuse programs, senior services, affordable housing projects, and more. The department has staff and offices on Lopez, Orcas, and San Juan Islands. For more information about San Juan County’s Department of Health & Community Services, visit



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