Toxin level cancels clam dig and threatens others

Marine toxin levels have led the Department of Fish and Wildlife to cancel a razor clam dig scheduled next week at Long Beach and delay the opening at Twin Harbors.

The status of proposed digs at Mocrocks, Copalis and Kalaloch – all scheduled to open late next week – also remains in limbo.

The Long Beach dig was cancelled after routine testing found levels of paralytic shellfish poisoning in clams had exceeded safety levels, said Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager.

Toxin levels at Long Beach were 82 micrograms/100 grams, and the health standard is 80. At Twin Harbors, levels were 63, while at Mocrocks they were less than 38. Ayres said poor surf conditions prevented them from collecting clams at Copalis and Kalaloch.

Department staff on Tuesday will collect more clams for testing at the other beaches, where PSP levels also appear to be on the rise.

“We should have results by late Wednesday and see where we are at before allowing any digging,” Ayres said. “That means nothing will open until we have a chance to review the results with the Department of Health. So Twin Harbors will certainly not open on Wednesday as was tentatively scheduled.”

PSP is a marine toxin produced by a certain type of algae that can cause paralysis and even death if consumed in sufficient quantities.

Frank Cox, marine biotoxin coordinator for the state Department of Health, said PSP cannot be removed by cooking or freezing. Although no human fatalities from PSP have been reported in Washington since 1942, people still get sick every few years – usually after eating toxic shellfish collected from closed beaches, Cox said.

This is the first razor-clam closure because of PSP since 1993, Ayres said. Another toxin, domoic acid, prompted a season-long closure in 2002-03.