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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Oregon Coast closed to harvesting of 4 types of shellfish in ‘unprecedented’ move after widespread contamination

The Oregon coast is closed to shellfish harvesting following widespread contamination, officials say.  (Jamie Hale/The Oregonian)
By Sujena Soumyanath The Oregonian

Oregon officials are barring all razor-clam, bay-clam and mussel harvesting along the state’s coast due to historically high levels of a potentially deadly toxin in local shellfish, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reported. The ban affects commercial fisheries producing oysters, razor clams and bay clams, according to the ODFW.

The toxin causes paralytic shellfish poisoning, the most common and severe form of shellfish poisoning. The food-borne illness can cause hospitalization and occasionally death. Symptoms typically appear 30 to 60 minutes after eating contaminated shellfish and include numbness of the mouth and lips, tingling, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness and, in severe cases, shortness of breath or irregular heartbeat, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

The ban shuts down recreational harvesting between the California border and Washington border, and it also shutters commercial oyster fisheries in Tillamook Bay, Netarts Bay and Winchester Bay. Coastwide razor clam and bay clam commercial fisheries are also closed, according to the state fish and wildlife department.

Matt Hunter, ODFW’s shellfish project leader, said the last time he saw a similar closure was the early 1990s and even then the levels of contamination weren’t as high. During that closure, only razor-clam harvesting was banned along the entire Oregon coast.

“To close down an entire coastline [to four shellfish types], that’s unprecedented,” he said.

The closure comes after a PSP outbreak last week poisoned at least 20 people, leading the state to shut down the northern part of the coastline to mussels harvesting. Before that outbreak, officials had already closed the southern portion of the coastline to mussels harvesting.

Meghan Dugan, an ODFW spokesperson, said it was unclear how long the closure would last.

“It’s going to be up to testing results,” she said.

PSP is a natural marine biotoxin that some species of microscopic algae produce.

Hunter attributed the outbreak to high levels of a specific type of phytoplankton that releases PSP toxins. This phytoplankton has always been present in low levels in the ocean but recently has increased, becoming a main food source for shellfish, he said.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture will test shellfish for PSP toxins at least twice a month, the fish and wildlife department reported. Two consecutive tests that show a toxin level below the U.S. Food and Drug Administration threshold are required to open the area, Hunter added.

Economic impacts of the closure are hard to estimate just yet, Hunter said.

Oysters are only harvested commercially, while individuals often recreationally harvest mussels, bay clams and razor clams, he said.

More than 14,000 pounds of commercially harvested razor clams landed on the Oregon coast in May, but that rate has already started dwindling this month due to contamination concerns, Hunter said.

He urged everyone to check the 24-hour shellfish hotline for more information, or if they think they ate contaminated shellfish.

“This is an unprecedented, unparalleled event and we’re trying to be as cautious as possible,” he said.