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April 30, 2024

Shellfish Harvesting in Skagit County

With the return of warmer weather and daytime low tides, you might be venturing out to harvest shellfish from one of Skagit County’s many beaches. With the help of a diligent group of volunteer harvesters, Skagit County Public Health monitors samples of clams, oysters, and mussels for biotoxins including the toxin that causes Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP). PSP is a serious illness caused by eating shellfish containing elevated levels of a naturally occurring microscopic organism. What begins as a tingling sensation in the lips and tongue can progress to a life-threatening paralysis of the respiratory system.

Skagit County Public Health works with the Washington State Department of Health to issue beach closures when toxin levels become elevated. Before harvesting shellfish always check the current beach closures posted on the Shellfish Safety Map, the Marine Biotoxin Bulletin, or by calling the Marine Biotoxin Hotline at 1-800-562-5632.

Samish Bay Seasonal Vibrio Advisory

The Washington State Department of Health has updated the Shellfish Safety Map to reflect the seasonal vibrio bacteria advisory for recreational shellfish harvesting in Samish Bay from May 1 through September 30, 2024. Vibrio is a bacteria naturally found in marine coastal waters, normally present in low numbers. When the weather warms up, these bacteria multiply rapidly so shellfish are more likely to be contaminated in the summer.

Because Samish Bay has been identified as a high-risk area for Vibrio, it is advised that all recreational harvesters practice “Check, Chill, Cook” to avoid illness. Check the status of the waterbody, chill your harvested shellfish immediately, and cook shellfish to 145° F for 15 seconds. For more information about Vibriosis and how to prevent illness from Vibrio in shellfish, visit the Washington State Department of Health’s webpage.

Safe Shellfish Consumption

There are a variety of other bacterial and viral illnesses caused by consuming contaminated shellfish. Proper cooking of shellfish before eating is always advised. Eat only well-cooked shellfish, especially in summer months. Do not consider shellfish to be fully cooked when the shells just open — they need to cook longer to reach 145° F. Learn more about how to handle, store, and cook shellfish properly to avoid illness here.

Safe Shellfish Harvesting

  • Just before you leave, check for closures and advisories due to vibrio and biotoxins by using the Shellfish Safety Map or by calling the Marine Biotoxin Hotline at 1-800-562-5632.
  • Harvest shellfish as soon as possible with the receding tide.
  • Don't harvest shellfish that have been exposed to the sun for more than one hour.
  • Keep shellfish on ice immediately after harvesting.
  • Thoroughly cook shellfish to destroy vibrio bacteria. The internal temperature must reach 145 °F for 15 seconds.
  • Cooking does not destroy biotoxins.
  • Know your shellfish. If you need a refresher, here is a guide on shellfish identification.
  • Learn more about preventing shellfish-related illness here.

For questions about safely harvesting or consuming shellfish in Skagit County, please email eh@co.skagit.wa.us or call Skagit County Public Health at (360) 416-1500.