Shellfish industries slammed by unprecedented algal bloom

Officials along the West Coast are shutting down seafood harvesting due to health concerns.

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Officials along the West Coast are shutting down shellfish fisheries in response to a toxic algal bloom.

Warm ocean temperatures are helping algae grow to produce a toxin that is eaten by fish, compromising their safety as food.

It appears the danger of this bloom is unprecedented as a spokesman with NOAA Fisheries Michael Milstein said in an story, “It appears to be the largest we’ve seen in terms of severity and magnitude.”

Oregon officials, he said, have halted all shellfish harvesting from the Columbia River south to Tillamook Head and closed the entire state coastline to razor clamming. Mussel harvesting north of Gold Beach has also been closed. All coastal Washington beaches, he said, have been closed to razor clamming, at an estimated loss of more than $9 million in revenue for coastal communities in the past month alone. He said Washington has closed the coast to Dungeness crab harvesting.

“That’s the first time they’ve ever done that,” he said.

Astoria-based Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Matt Hunter said in a Statesman Journal story that clamming won’t start until July 15 at the earliest.

“We still haven’t seen domoic acids levels peak,” he said. “As long are they are still going up it’s hard to predict when they might start coming down.”

Domoic acid, a natural toxin produced by certain types of marine algae called phytoplankton, can be harmful or even fatal if eaten in sufficient quantities. Cooking or freezing does not destroy the toxin. Shellfish samples are collected every low tide series for biotoxin analysis. It takes two consecutive samples under the alert level before an area can be reopened, Hunter said.

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