Outbreak of biotoxin closes some beaches in Washington state

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. (AP) — Most recreational shellfish harvesting beaches in the Puget Sound region are closed because of a marine biotoxin that can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning if consumed.

Skagit County has closed all Fidalgo Island beaches and the nearby Burrows and Allen islands for shellfish harvesting, the Skagit Valley Herald reported. Samish Bay, Padilla Bay, Guemes Island, Cypress Island and Sinclair Island beaches have been closed since July due to the biotoxins.

Marine biotoxins are naturally produced by algae and are harmless in lower numbers. But, once concentrations are high, they can cause death, the state Department of Health said.

This biotoxin is often detected during the summer months, when warm water and sunlight encourages algae in the bay to bloom.

Paralytic shellfish poisoning affects the nervous and gastrointestinal systems. Symptoms can range from a tingling tongue and muscle paralysis to death, according to the Department of Health.

The agency saw an increase in the biotoxin in mussels sampled in the area on Tuesday.

“Mussels are used as an indicator for biotoxins within the marine environment because they easily take biotoxins up,” Skagit County spokesperson Laura Han said.