October 09, 1998
Washington Department of Health
Frank Cox, Office of Shellfish Programs (360) 236-3309
Jennifer Tebaldi, Office of Shellfish Programs (360) 236-3325
Steve Kelso, Office of Communications (360) 586-4002
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Jeff Weathersby, Public Information Office, (360) 902-2256
Doug Simons, Fish Biologist, (360) 586-6129 ext. 204
High domoic acid levels delay razor clam season
OLYMPIA - The Washington Department of Health and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife jointly announced today that the proposed razor clam season has been postponed due to elevated levels of a marine toxin called domoic acid, which causes Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning in people and Domoic Acid Poisoning in animals. Recent test results indicate that levels of domoic acid have reached record high levels (more than 2.5 times the previous high record) in razor clams. The razor clam season originally proposed to open on October 5th is being postponed until the toxin decreases to a safe level, which could take several months or more.
The action level for domoic acid is 15 parts per million (ppm). If shellfish tissues test above that level, the harvest area is closed to protect human health. Razor clam samples this week from various locations along the coast of Washington continued to rise, with the highest at Kalaloch in Jefferson County at 287 ppm. Earlier this year a dramatic increase in domoic acid levels in sardines and anchovies in California's Monterey Bay resulted in the death of over fifty California sea lions after they ate the toxic fish. California, Oregon, and British Columbia have closed shellfish areas in the past few months due to elevated levels of domoic acid.
"People eating razor clams containing high levels of domoic acid may experience Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning, which can be a very serious illness, even life threatening in extreme cases" said Jennifer Tebaldi, director of the Shellfish Programs at the Department of Health. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal cramps within 24 hours of consuming the clams. In severe cases, neurological symptoms appear within 48 hours, and may include headaches, dizziness, disorientation, seizures, breathing difficulty, permanent short-term memory loss and in some cases death.
"There are currently no safe (or legal) sources of fresh razor clams in Washington State," said Tebaldi. "Seafood distributors sometimes sell fresh razor clams from Alaska; however, the Alaskan commercial razor clam fishery has been closed since late August." Consumers are advised to question the source of any razor clams they may encounter on the market, to ensure they are buying only safe product.
Razor clam sampling and testing will continue throughout the fall and winter. When levels of domoic acid fall below the action level, razor clam harvest may again be allowed. Other species of shellfish, such as mussels or hardshell clams, from any beach on the outside coast of Washington are not considered safe and should not be harvested by the public. Routine tests have shown that the commercial shellfish from the coastal bays and other Washington waters have not been affected by the domoic acid and are safe to eat. Domoic acid can also impact coastal populations of Dungeness crab which feed on razor clams. Samples of crab will be tested for the toxin prior to the commercial crab season opening on the Washington coast.
For more information, please see our Webpage, Razor Clam Resource Affected By Domoic Acid.