Sitka Tribe of Alaska fisheries biologist Jen Hamblen empties blue mussel meat into a blender in 2017. The lab tests shellfish from around the region for Paralytic Shellfish Toxins. (Emily Russell/KCAW)

The toxins that cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning or PSP have been found in shellfish collected recently near Yakutat.

The Yakutat Tlingit Tribe’s Environmental Department says that blue mussels, littleneck clams and cockles collected Aug. 18 and 19 from Ankau Saltchucks and Puget Cove contained low levels of Paralytic Shellfish Toxins. Butter clams from Ankau also contained low levels, and the Tribe continues to advise against their harvest based on past high levels of PSP. 

The Tribe submitted the samples as part of a regular monitoring effort sponsored by the Southeast Alaska Ocean Tribal Research partnership. It monitors sites around Southeast Alaska and serves as an early warning system for PSP, a serious and sometimes fatal illness. 

Yakutat Tlingit Tribe Environmental Director Jennifer Hanlon said that the recent results actually show lower levels than in the past, particularly for butter clams. They’ve submitted additional samples and expect results soon. But she warns that results are time-sensitive, and there’s no guarantee that shellfish will be safe to eat.

“We’re happy to provide this information to the community to inform their harvesting plans, but we do remind everyone that there is always going to be a risk when it comes to harvesting shellfish,” she said.

Despite the risks, Hanlon said harvesting shellfish is an important part of her community.

“I think there’s also so many benefits to just getting out on the land and our ancestral waters. And harvesting these foods. They’re very nutrient-dense,” she said. “And it’s just a good way to get out and feel that connection to our community and provide that source of food for our families.”

People interested in harvesting shellfish in either area should watch for advisories on the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe’s Facebook page. Harvesters can contact the Tribe if they want to get their shellfish tested.

Erin McKinstry is a Report for America corps member.