Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has closed large portions of the Strait of Georgia to the harvest of bivalve molluscs (clams, oysters, mussels, scallops) due to paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) contamination, also known as “red tide”.
“Monitoring shows unusually high levels of toxins and this warning should be taken very seriously,” says a DFO release.
Testing is done by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency through the Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program.
PSP is a marine toxin that affects filter-feeding shellfish including clams, mussels, oysters and scallops. It can also be found in the hepatopancreas of crabs. Cooking will not make these shellfish safe to eat.
Those affected by PSP usually experience tingling or numbness around lips five to 30 minutes after ingestion.
Other symptoms include headache dizziness, and neck stiffness, weakness, rapid pulse and some breathing difficulty (gastrointestinal symptoms are less common).
At the first sign of PSP symptoms, contact your Poison Control Centre at 1-800-567-8911 for first aid advice, and seek medical attention immediately.
“Always check for the latest information on PSP and other marine toxin, sewage and conservation closures prior to harvesting shellfish by contacting the DFO office nearest to the site of harvest or checking online,” the DFO release says.
Field office contact numbers can be found at www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/locations-bureaux-eng.html. PSP and sanitary closures are listed at www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/contamination/biotox/index-eng.html
In BC, all commercially harvested bivalve shellfish must be processed and inspected in a federally registered plant to assure quality control and safety. Do not purchase shellfish from illegal sources.
Shellfish harvested from open areas, or purchased from restaurants or other licenced vendors, remain safe to eat.
Visit www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/contamination/psp-eng.html for further information on the causes and symptoms of PSP, and how to avoid it.