pacific oysters

Pacific oysters are seen in Samish Bay in October 2018.

Toxic algae known as red tide continues to impact Samish Bay, but some areas are reopening this week to commercial shellfish harvesting.

The state Department of Health announced Tuesday that as of Monday, two parcels within the bay were approved to reopen to the commercial harvesting of manila clams and Pacific oysters.

The entire bay remains closed to recreational harvesting due to the risk of exposure to the algae, which can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning if contaminated shellfish are consumed.

“We have multiple hot spots and we can’t really break it down into separate areas for (recreational harvesting in) Samish Bay,” said Jerry Borchert, marine biotoxin lead with the state Department of Health. “As we do more testing we will gradually open more areas.”

Paralytic shellfish poisoning can cause symptoms within minutes and last up to two days after contaminated shellfish is consumed, according to the Department of Health.

It affects the central nervous system and paralyzes muscles, which can cause an upset stomach, dizziness, numbness and difficulty breathing, and in some cases may be fatal.

The algae known as red tide was first detected in Samish Bay in potentially unsafe levels in mid-September. The bay was closed Sept. 26 to commercial and recreational shellfish harvesting.

The Department of Health and area commercial shellfish growers have since been frequently testing for the biotoxin associated with the algae.

“It’s a very large complex area ... and we’re doing a lot of testing right now,” Borchert said.

Sampling has shown the biotoxin consistently decreasing throughout much of Samish Bay, but some areas remain highly toxic and others have seen fluctuations.

“There are some areas that are fluctuating up a little bit, probably due to the weather we have with stable conditions — the calm and not much wind to break this thing down,” Borchert said.

The weather forecast suggests that may change next week, he said, and “may hopefully bring an end to this bloom.”

Padilla Bay, Fidalgo Bay and Guemes Channel remain closed to recreational shellfish harvesting as a precaution, according to the Department of Health.

Skagit County Public Health urges those with symptoms of paralytic shellfish poisoning to immediately go to an emergency room or call 911.

For more information about shellfish harvest closures, call the Marine Biotoxin Hotline at 1-800-562-5632 or visit fortress.wa.gov/doh/eh/maps/biotoxin.

— Reporter Kimberly Cauvel: 360-416-2199, kcauvel@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kimberly_SVH, Facebook.com/bykimberlycauvel

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