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State warns about bad shellfish poisoning info

Cockles, a type of clam common in Southeast Alaska. A widely-read magazine incorrectly reported cold water temperatures could prevent PSP in the clams. Photo courtesy the state Department of Health and Social Services.

State officials say a magazine article about shellfish incorrectly states when they can be gathered safely.

Alaska Magazine’s December-January issue includes a first-person story about collecting cockles, a type of clam, on shores near Juneau. It includes a warning about paralytic shellfish poisoning. But it says cockles can be dug safely in late fall and winter, because colder water keeps PSP-producing algae from blooming.

Department of Environmental Conservation health officer George Scanlan says that’s not the case.

“There are no safe months. PSP can occur anytime. And the only way time you would know is to test it and to have the lab analyze the animal,” he says.

The departments of Environmental Conservation, and Health and Social Services, say only commercially-grown shellfish is considered safe.

That’s because of the tests. Checks last week, for example, found some Southeast geoducks clams had toxin levels four times more than what’s safe for human consumption.

PSP can cause loss of arm and leg control and make breathing difficult. It can kill a person in about two hours.

Alaska Magazine could not be reached for immediate comment.

Paralytic shellfish poisoning can be found in clams, mussels, oysters and scallops. Crabmeat is not known to contain the toxin, but crab guts can.

DEC spokesman Ty Keltner says shellfish gatherers should know the facts.

“We certainly don’t want to discourage anybody from going out there are having their right to recreational harvests. But we just want folks to know that safety is really important and we want people to be aware of the risks when they do this,” Keltner says.

Here’s where to to earn more about PSP and shellfish safety:

– Alaska’s Division of Public Health Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning Fact Sheet

– The Division of Environmental Health’s Recreational Shellfish Program

 

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