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Shellfish harvesting restrictions lessened

Decreased biotoxin levels allow for more recreational harvesting

By Jenelle Baumbach News Intern

Waters in southern Whatcom County now have fewer restrictions to the recreational harvesting of molluscan shellfish, which include clams, mussels, oysters and scallops. 

Restrictions still apply to the harvest of butter and varnish clams on beaches south of Sandy Point, including Bellingham Bay, Portage and Chuckanut Bays, and the area around Lummi Island, the Whatcom County Health Department announced Tuesday.

Waters north of Sandy Point to the Canadian border remain open for the safe harvest of all species. 

Restrictions in harvesting shellfish are applied due to unsafe levels of biotoxins in the water. Shellfish consume biotoxin-producing algae and become unsafe for human consumption. 

Biotoxins are naturally produced in algae, usually at a low, safe level for human consumption. However, an overproduction of biotoxins in shellfish can cause death or serious illness. This overproduction occurs when nutrient-rich waters experience both high sunlight and warm temperatures. 

Butter clams and varnish clams can retain biotoxins for lengthier periods of time and can remain unsafe long after a biotoxin episode, according to the Washington State Department of Health.  

Biotoxin levels can fluctuate rapidly throughout the state, said Marie Duckworth of the Whatcom county health department. The state continues to test biotoxin levels regularly, so the public is advised to stay up to date on the current information before harvesting shellfish.  

Data can be found on the state department of health biotoxin and pollution closures map, or by calling the Biotoxin Hotline at 1-800-562-5632. 

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