Toxic Algae Close NW Beaches to Clammers


EUREKA, Calif. (CN) – Not a fishing boat was seen off the Northern California coast in many places this week as a toxic algae bloom linked to warming water has shut down fishing, crabbing and oystering.
     “There wasn’t a boat on the water, as all fishing along up to the Oregon coast has been shut down because of a toxic kelp,” said Michael Huspek, a college professor with a home in Crescent City.
     “Many of our neighbors, fishermen, are very concerned about the toxic kelp that is contaminating all fish, clams and crabs, and I assume larger predators such as the gray whales, that are so often seen in Crescent’s bay.”
     The record algae bloom makes shellfish and some fin fish unsafe to eat, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. It said the algae bloom has lasted for 3 months. More than one type of algae is blooming, and the toxins vary.
     A toxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning can kill people from respiratory failure, according to the California Department of Public Health.
     Seafood contaminated with domoic acid can cause amnesic shellfish poisoning, which can bring permanent short-term memory loss, brain damage or death.
     Between 1927 and 1980, paralytic shellfish poisoning killed 39 people in California. No one has become sick from PSP in California since 1991, though shellfish along the Golden Coast continue to demonstrate lethal levels of the toxins in most years, state officials say.
     Death can come within 30 minutes, and cooking does not always destroy the toxins.
     The toxins may not harm the shellfish or small fish, but do harm those above it in the food chain.
     Shellfish in stores should be safe because of testing, but recreational clammers should check for warnings, NOAA warned.
     “This is unprecedented in terms of the extent and magnitude of this harmful algal bloom and the warm water conditions we’re seeing offshore,” said Vera Trainer, with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center.
     The Science Center, and California officials, have warned people not to eat “recreationally harvested mussels and clams, commercially or recreationally caught anchovy and sardines, or the internal organs of commercially or recreationally caught crab taken from Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.”
     Oregon has barred shellfish harvesting from the Columbia River south to Tillamook Head and closed the entire coastline to razor clamming because of elevated levels of domoic acid, the Science Center said.
     “All coastal Washington beaches have also been closed to razor clamming, at an estimated loss of more than $9 million in revenue for coastal communities in the last month alone,” the Science Center said in a June report.
     NOAA in July granted Washington state $88,000 to monitor and analyze an unusually large bloom of toxic algae off its coast.

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