Biotoxin Monitoring & Notification

Clallam County Environmental Health Services (CCEH) works with the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) and other local stakeholders to preserve and restore high-quality recreational and commercial shellfish harvesting areas along coastal borders. Washington is the leading producer of farmed shellfish in the nation, but many beaches and commercial growing areas have been closed or 'downgraded' by the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) due to contamination. The Environmental Health Services Shellfish Program focuses on marine biotoxin monitoring and notification along with public education.

Clallam County is home to a rich and diverse variety of shellfish species, which have provided sustenance and recreation to indigenous tribes and local communities for centuries.  

At present, there are several key things to be aware of before harvesting and consuming shellfish from local waters: 

  • Harvest Open and Closed Seasons 
  • Waters closed to harvest due to water pollution 
  • Waters closed to harvest due to biotoxin presence (PSP, ASP, DSP) 
Popular beaches around Clallam County are posted with red or yellow signs, which will state:  
  • the current status of shellfish harvesting at that beach (open or closed),  
  • the current shellfish species that should not be harvested (if any), 
  • and the reason for any closure/limit to species type.   

The WA Department of Health (DOH) regulates all shellfish harvesting closures, and their Shellfish Safety Map is the best source for up-to-date information about harvesting status for Clallam County beaches. 

Please see the links below for more information on biotoxins and recreational or commercial shellfish harvesting:

Biotoxin Monitoring & Notification

Biotoxins are toxins produced by phytoplankton in marine waters, and are not visible to the naked eye. They are naturally occurring, and during certain parts of the year, are present in low enough concentrations that they do not pose a threat to human health. However, under certain conditions, spikes in biotoxin concentrations can occur. 

Molluscan shellfish are filter-feeders that ingest small particles from their surroundings, including the phytoplankton that produce biotoxins. Once ingested by the animal, these biotoxins can stay active in shellfish tissues for extended periods of time. If shellfish that have ingested biotoxins are harvested and then consumed, it can lead to serious health consequences in humans and other mammals.  

There are 3 common types of poisoning that come from consuming shellfish that have ingested biotoxins:

Biotoxins cannot be cooked out of shellfish, and have no antidote. Be sure to acquaint yourself with possible hazards related to shellfish consumption before harvesting. 

The Washington State Department of Health regulates recreational shellfish harvesting for safety and quality. Clallam County Environmental Health regularly sends shellfish samples to DOH labs, and utilizes health information provided by DOH. When high biotoxin levels are detected, Environmental Health sends out a press release to notify the public, and updates signage at affected beaches.

CCEH coordinates the Olympic Baywatchers for PSP monitoring at two sites in Sequim Bay. Environmental Health Services also samples mussels at Ediz Hook biweekly to check for PSP. All of the samples collected along Clallam County beaches are sent to the Washington State Department of Health Laboratory to be tested. If a beach is closed by the State Department of Health, Clallam County notifies the public of the closure.