Recreational gatherers of shellfish are being advised to use caution in their effort, to avoid paralytic shellfish poisoning.
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services said in an announcement issued on June 26 that high levels of algal toxins that can lead to paralytic shellfish poisoning are being identified in non-commercially harvested shellfish from numerous Alaska communities.
Commercially harvested shellfish are considered safe to consumer, because commercial harvesters are required by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to have their catch regularly tested for toxins that can cause PSP.
No beaches in Alaska are certified or designated as “safe” beaches for shellfish harvesting at this time. Non-commercially harvested shellfish may contain paralytic shellfish toxins that, if ingested, can cause death. Those consuming non-commercial shellfish do so at their own risk.
Southeast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research and the Sitka Tribe of Alaska Environmental Research Lab test for PSP toxins in foraged shellfish from some Southeast Alaska and Gulf of Alaska beaches and issue site-specific advisories for areas showing elevated levels based on test results, state officials said.
Some of their recent tests have shown levels of PSP toxins over 50 times the threshold safe for human consumption in shellfish. Recent testing by other entities has also shown elevated levels of PSP toxins in shellfish collected in the Aleutians and on Kodiak Island.
Be aware that PSP toxins are not destroyed by cooking or freezing shellfish before consumption. PSP toxins have also been found in crab viscera, known as crab butter. Crab should be cleaned and eviscerated before cooking.
Early symptoms of PSP 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 muscle control in the arms and legs, followed by difficulty breathing. Some people may experience a sense of floating or nausea. Muscles in the chest and abdomen may become paralyzed, and if this happens, death can occur within hours.
Treatment is supportive are, which may require mechanical ventilation. There is no antitoxin.
Those experiencing PSP symptoms should seek immediate medical attention, and suspected cases of PSP should be reported to the Alaska Section of Epidemiology at 907-269-8000, or after hours at 1-800-478-0084.