Most beaches in the central Puget Sound area are closed to recreational shellfish harvesting, because of unsafe levels of toxins that can be fatal. The presence of Paralytic Shellfish Poison has resulted in a closure extending from Seattle’s Alki Beach south to the Pierce County line, including Vashon Island.
In other areas, harvesting can be safe, but the State Department of Health is urging caution. Clara Hard is the department’s Shellfish Illness Prevention Coordinator.
“This year we are seeing higher levels of vibrio bacteria in the environment and people should take precautions when they go to the beach," Hard said. "Harvest as the tide goes out, chill the shellfish as quickly as they can in ice or refrigeration and then cook it thoroughly – to 145 degrees for 15 seconds, whenever they’re harvesting between late May and September.”
Vibrio bacteria is naturally occurring and thrives in warm temperatures. It causes flu-like symptoms including diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting. There’s been a recent spike in the illness from people who ate raw or undercooked oysters they harvested locally. The health department has a web site people can check, where a Shellfish Safety Map has real time updates of any health-related closures.