OLYMPIA – The first razor clam dig of the fall season has been postponed due to elevated levels of marine toxins on Washington's coastal beaches, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced today.
All five razor clam beaches tentatively scheduled to open Oct. 5-7 will remain closed to digging until further notice, based on the results of routine tests conducted by the Washington Department of Health (DOH), said Dan Ayres, WDFW razor clam biologist.
Beaches affected by the health closure include Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks and Kalaloch.
"This is extremely disappointing," Ayres said. "We have a lot of clams out there this year and a lot of eager diggers. We're just hoping the toxin level drops soon so we can reschedule the opener."
Ayres said test results showed that domoic acid levels at all three ocean beaches north of Grays Harbor exceeded the federal standard of 20 parts per million (ppm), the threshold at which clams from those beaches are determined to be unsafe for human consumption. South of Grays Harbor, domoic acid levels at Long Beach and Twin Harbors were "near the threshold and rising," Ayres said, prompting WDFW to impose a coastwide closure on razor clam digging.
"Amnesic shellfish poisoning is not something you want to fool around with," Ayres said. "When it comes to shellfish, it's always better to be safe than sorry."
Ayres explained that amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP) is caused by ingesting toxic levels of domoic acid, a naturally occurring marine toxin. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, dizziness and a variety of other ailments.
There is no antidote for ASP and extreme cases can result in death. To date, there there have been no known fatalities due to ASP in Washington state, Ayres said.
DOH, which has the responsibility for monitoring shellfish contamination, today assured the public that all commercially harvested razor clams and other commercial shellfish currently in the market place have been subjected to a rigorous testing program and are safe for consumption.
The last time elevated domoic acid levels prompted a coastwide closure of the Washington razor clam fishery was in the fall of 1998. In April 2001, a spike in marine toxin levels also suspended clam digging in the Twin Harbors area but subsided enough to allow a resumption of digging within a month.
"There's no way to predict it, but we're really hoping that these elevated marine toxin levels will pass quickly," Ayres said. "We'll be monitoring the situation closely and will make an announcement as soon as we see some improvement."