Toxin that causes paralysis found in Skagit County shellfish

MT. VERNON, Wash. -- Samples showing elevated levels of a toxin that can cause paralysis if eaten have prompted officials in Skagit County to close recreational shellfish harvesting county-wide.

According to the Skagit County Public Health Department, the biotoxin is called Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP). Impacted shellfish include clams, mussels, oysters, and scallops. Mussels usually contain the highest toxin concentration.

PSP and other naturally occurring biotoxins are not destroyed by cooking or freezing. Crab meat is not affected, but "crab butter" and crab entrails can harbor biotoxins so they should be discarded.

Harvest will remain closed until testing shows that marine biotoxin is no longer at a level of public health concern.

Shellfish sold in restaurants and markets are tested before distribution and are safe to eat.

The algae containing the toxins cannot be seen and must be detected by laboratory testing. The health department urges residents to check the Washington State Department of Health Marine Biotoxin website at  or call the Biotoxin Hotline at 1-800-562-5632 before harvesting shellfish anywhere in Washington state.